We love series from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Co. – but what makes them so particularly good? In the search for an answer, one always comes across a key figure: the showrunner. We took a closer look at what he does and what you can imagine by it.
Since Amazon and Netflix launched their streaming services in Germany almost at the same time in 2014, not only have our viewing habits changed radically, but also the business that produces such content. Series makers and actors had to adapt. One of the most radical signs of change is probably the job of the showrunner. A term that each of us has probably heard before.
But what the hell does a showrunner do?
The short answer is: everything. The whole thing looks a bit more complicated in detail. The best thing we can do is ask those who make series and who bear this title all too often – at least on paper. The principle is already much more common in the USA than it is in Germany, but it is also becoming more and more important here. “In Germany there are hardly any examples where there was a real showrunner. For me, the real showrunner is someone who writes, directs, is the executive producer and also has financial responsibility, ”explains Oliver Kienle.
For example, the screenwriter and director developed the ZDF series “Bad Banks” about Frankfurt’s financial district and produced “Isi und Ossi” for Netflix. “In Germany it’s still pretty clearly separated, it’s rare that someone does everything. But it’s good that you’re slowly internalizing that, ”he says. Also because it is a more contemporary way of looking at how series are created these days: “I believe in a central force. One story has a clear narrator and not three. That is why the showrunner concept has established itself in series. Because this creates continuity. “
In principle, the showrunner is a link between all levels involved in the production – he or she knows his or her knowledge, has insight into everything, manages, organizes and knows about the budget – so a lot of responsibility. He or she plans processes and is creatively involved. It can be exciting and varied, but also quite stressful.
“Skylines” showrunner Dennis Schanz can also report on this, as he tells in a guest article for the industry magazine “Blickpunkt: Film”. For example, he would have liked to have been on the set more often when the series was filmed. Often, however, he still had to adapt books and generally always be there where it was most burning. A showrunner is a girl for everything and has to be flexible too.
The fact is: There is no official training to become a showrunner
– although the Writers Guild of America, the union of film and screenwriters, offers a training program with everything you should have for the job. The concept prevailed thanks to the “Game of Thrones” house broadcaster HBO. In the 90s he wanted to focus more on in-house productions. So exactly what Netflix and Co. are doing today.
The problem: HBO had little experience in this area. The showrunners had a free hand and should implement the series in the best possible way – according to their ideas. So HBO wanted to secure and attract creative minds as possible. And there was another advantage: HBO itself didn’t have to deal with the complicated production processes in the film business. The principle already existed before, but it was only at this point that it really caught on.
And how does that look in practice?
Very different. In Germany, many directors and producers are still used to the old hierarchies – that worked perfectly for years. Giving some of your influence on the end product would probably be difficult for any of us who have tried something creative. Everyone has their own ideas. A showrunner can be a very useful thing, especially in today’s highly flexible production processes, where the script in the writers room is sometimes created parallel to the shooting in order to incorporate the most current trends into a series or film – because he has the big picture in mind.
Sometimes a showrunner is more like a scriptwriter and director rolled into one, as was the case with Oliver Kienle when he produced the first German film title in-house for Netflix with “Isi und Ossi”. The “Bad Banks” creator thinks that the showrunner principle will not only change something in streaming services, but also in classic TV channels such as ARD, ZDF, ProSieben and RTL.
Between skepticism and freedom
“A series like ‘Bad Banks’ would not have been possible on classic television five years earlier. I am very happy that this is now available. As a result, I can now do everything exactly as I want, ”he says. He thinks it’s great that the industry has changed so much and that he still has both options open. “One difference, however, is that I saw a much greater determination with Netflix. But I also came up with a finished script, you have to say to be fair, ”explains Kienle.
Skylines showrunner Dennis Schanz knows the skepticism of many of his colleagues, but also thinks: “In my opinion, a good series needs a direct line from the basic idea through the writers room and filming to post-production.” His position as a showrunner has Above all, it is associated with a lot of freedom and is also more flexible than with conventional production processes. When it came to the fact that “Skylines” could become a “Netflix Original”, Netflix already knew the books, but above all wanted to know from him what his vision for the series was.
The creative freedom in the implementation encourages many to try their hand at unconventional material – and that is precisely what makes the titles of Netflix and Co. maybe a tad more exciting than previous series.