Film & TV

From Shonda Rhimes' MasterClass: Showrunning

Written by MasterClass

Apr 23, 2019 • 3 min read

Becoming and being a showrunner is exciting, but it comes with immense responsibilities. Shonda talks through how she learned to become an effective showrunner.

Topics include: Studios • Delegating • Communication


Preview of Showrunning

This is an excerpt from Shonda Rhimes' MasterClass.

What is a showrunner?

A showrunner is, a lot of people say it's different things to different people.

But to me, a showrunner is somebody who keeps a show running.

They keep a television show running.

And that is a very important way of putting it.

And most of the time, a showrunner is a writer, not necessarily always the creator of the show, but always an executive producer.

And they're the person who's responsible for basically keeping the trains running on time, making sure the scripts happen, making sure you're staying on budget as prescribed by the line producer, making sure the actors are as happy as they need to be, working with the crew and the line-producing side of the team, talking to the studio and the network, making sure the writers' room is moving forward, making sure that the scripts are creatively what the studio and the network are hopeful for, but also protecting the creative vision.

It's a big job.

I'm a fairly fierce showrunner, I like to say.

For me, I feel like my best work is about being keeper of the story.

My commitment, my real most important job for the audience is to be fully committed to the storytelling.

And so when it comes down to it, that is where my allegiances always have to lie, the story.

And so that is where all my decisions come from.

There can be a big conflict when you are a showrunner between the creative and artistic side and the financial side, and the sort of business side of things.

There's the financial side, you're given a budget for every episode.

It's like a little movie.

You have to stick to it.

You're given sort of a mandate by this studio network of what they want creatively.

And I don't mean they're dictating to you what the episode should be about.

But say you've promised them a show about Meredith Grey, she's a surgeon, she's working as hard as she can to make it as a surgeon.

You can't then deliver them a show about Meredith Grey who's become a surfer and she's working as hard as she can to surf and not going to the hospital very often, for instance.

And then you have your creative side, which is you have to follow this story as the story is dictated in your creative spirit and soul and as the characters drive it.

And all of those things have to work together.

Now a lot of it is for me, sticking to the storytelling.

Storytelling is the most important thing.

I have to follow the characters.

But I also have to stay within the millions of dollars of budget that I've been given for the season, and I cannot go over that.

Because if you go over that, then you are being fiscally irresponsible and you are messing with the studio network's money.

I think the skills necessary to be a successful showrunner really have to do with the ability to communicate honestly.

What happens to a lot of people is they get afraid.

And this, frankly, is for everything in life.

People get afraid...

Reviews for Shonda Rhimes' MasterClass

I'm so grateful to have been given the opportunity to take this Masterclass. It was amazing. I learned more than I ever could've imagined. I'm inspired and ready to get my scriptwriting ON!!! - Phette H.

Shonda is an excellent teacher--clear and insightful, but also very personal in her delivery. I love the presentation and structure of the course. - Keelyn B.

This class has been such an eye opener on multiple levels. The preciseness of language and guidance, compliment the structure which in turn inspires me to be better at what I do. Bravo! - Shawn A.

Everything I dreamed it would be and more! Thank you Shondaland! - T. G.