Showrunners Take On the Challenge to Produce Great Shows

NBC’s “The Blacklist” stars James Spader.

NBC’s “The Blacklist” stars James Spader.

One of the most interesting presentations during the current Television Critics Association’s summer press tour was the panel with the showrunners for some of the top NBC series. The lineup had the producers from some of our favorite dramas on TV — The Blacklist’s John Eisendrath, Grimm’s David Greenwalt, Chicago P.D. and Chicago Fire’s Matt Olmstead, and Jason Katims who oversees the family drama Parenthood, as well as the NBC comedy gem About A Boy.

There are usually a dozen or more “producers” listed in a show’s credits, but if a producer acts as the showrunner, Jason Katims told me “he is responsible for all aspects, for the writing, for the producing, for the editing, and for the final product. So it’s the fun job to have in the club, if you can bear the hours, because you get to do a little bit of everything each day and you’re connected to every part of the show.” In essence, the showrunners make the magic happen by guiding the creative forces behind their shows. They keep the productions running smoothly, and keep audiences tuning in.

David Greenwalt who shoots Grimm in Portland, Oregon, said for his job “comfortable shoes come in real handy,” because of the long hours a showrunner puts in. He said, “One of the things I love about television is it’s a writer’s medium, and you have the illusion of some control over your product. Getting a story ‘right’ is such a satisfying thing. Then immediately you go on to the next one.”

During the interview session, the showrunners gave their insiders point of view and the scoop on their popular productions.

John Eisendrath acknowledged that at the end of The Blacklist’s season finale Red (James Spader) turned around and we saw the burn scars, but that was not meant to confirm to the viewers that he is Elizabeth Keen’s (Megan Boone) father. Instead Eisendrath said, “It tells us that there’s a story yet to come about what the truth is about whether or not he is her father. And this season we’re going to take the opportunity to ask and answer that question in ways that I think will get us closer to the ultimate truth.” He also noted that the mythology of the show is very small. “It’s just about the relationship between the two of them. It’s a very relatable story. There isn’t a larger story about why he picked her or why he came back. So it is a challenge to know when to introduce the next surprise in that story.”

Last season Matt Olmstead did crossover shows with Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D., and since it was a good experience he’s hoping to do it again. “It’s difficult with cast availability and scheduling. But it’s a natural progression to go from a fire incident to a cop investigation. I think the actors liked it. The fans definitely did. For sure we want to do more this season,” Olmstead reported.

Jason Katims did a subtle crossover between About a Boy and Parenthood, just a walk by with the actors in a background shot. “Since they’re in San Francisco it made sense. I’d love to find another opportunity to do that.” But he better do it quick because this is Parenthood’s last season and NBC has given him the chance to wrap up all the storylines for the fans. Katims explained, “It’s always been a bubble show, where we never knew whether we were going to be able to come back for the next season. It’s a great feeling to have these last thirteen episodes. I had a similar experience when I did Friday Night Lights, that we knew in the writers’ room it was going to be the final season. For a show that I am personally so invested in, and for everybody doing the show, and for the fans, I think of it as a gift to tell this last part of the story.”

Katims sees this season of Parenthood as “an incredible opportunity. You can lean into telling so many different types of stories about family, marriage, parenting and every possible incarnation of all these things.” He teased, “We’re going to be telling a story this year that we haven’t told before. I’m excited about that.”