Disney's New Slate Of TV Shows Apparently Almost Write Themselves

Post by: AYS Staff 11 December, 2020

When Disney unveiled its new slate of TV shows and movies during its Investors Day on Thursday, it was an impressive line-up of titles, directors and stars. And yet when you look at the information released by Disney, there were few writers mentioned in the presentation.

It's sadly not uncommon for writers to be ignored in press materials, unless the writer happens to be a well-known showrunner or is known as having been a writer on a well-known series. Only a handful of networks routinely list the credited writers of individual episodes in their press materials and I don't think there is any public list of more detailed info, such as the writing staff on a show, other than on a site such as IMDB Pro.

But Disney's noted lack of mentioning the writers on most of its new projects is also part of another trend that Disney is pushing out, particularly on its Marvel projects. The shift from a writer running a TV series to one where it is helmed by a director. Or in some cases, a director assisted by a "head writer."

The norm in the television industry for decades has been that the showrunner of a TV series is essentially the boss of the production (yes, I know I'm simplifying this a great deal). The showrunner is the last word on most aspects of the production, from casting to budgeting to script approval. The amount of writing the showrunner does over the course of a season depends on the show and the person running it. But every script should reflect the vision of the showrunner, filtered through feedback from the network and the studio. The typical show is ultimately a reflection of the showrunner's vision. At least as much as any one person's vision can dominate a production that is the collaborative effort of several hundred people.

The theory behind the showrunner is that since there needs to be an ultimate boss, the best person to do that is someone who is intimately involved with the show from pre-production to season wrap. While feature films are seen as a director's medium, television directors often come onto a show for just a few episodes. They help shape their episodes, but they still need to work within the framework of the showrunner's vision.

But particularly in the case of Disney's Marvel projects, the thinking from the studio has moved towards a director-centric showrunning model. The seasons for these shows are often shorter and in many cases, the writer's room is done well before the season has finished production. The belief in a lot of executive suites is that if you hire a director for the season, they'll be there for the entire production and having them oversee the process will be more intuitive than one in which a writing showrunner is still trying to manage things long after the primary writing is completed. So some of these shows are moving towards the series director essentially becoming the ultimate decision-maker, aided by someone who is given the title "Head Writer." 

(And yes, I am very much glossing-over a lot of the related issues. But honestly, it you're aware of the other issues you're probably not the audience for this piece)

As a writer, I'm partial to the importance of the skill but maybe this new director-centric approach will work. Although my hunch is that it's going to be a rocky transition for everyone concerned.

I used to own a t-shirt that read "No one in Hollywood ever got laid bragging "I was the writer on that." Which isn't entirely true, but it does give you a sense of where the writer ranks in the general Hollywood ladder.

Remember the writer. Even better, mentions their names.

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Last modified on Friday, 11 December 2020 11:02