The showrunners of Difficult Men all have one thing in common: they didn’t start as showrunners.
That makes sense, I mean who is born knowing how to do a job like that? But unlike musicians who make a great first album, directors who knock it out of the park with their debut film or advertising creatives who win several Pencils with their first commercial, the people entrusted with the job of running a TV series (even a shit one) must have paid their dues elsewhere first.
Each story, whether of David Chase, David Milch, David Simon or Vince Gilligan, begins with some less good TV that they either improved or demonstrated they were much too good for.
The one with the best CV is David Milch, who started on Hill Street Blues before creating NYPD Blue alongside proven producer Steven Bochco. He then started a couple of less successful shows then on to Deadwood.
In his earlier days, David Chase was a cantankerous bastard on The Rockford Files, and Northern Exposure, amongst others. He won an Emmy in 1980, proving his talent, but didn’t end up in charge of The Sopranos for another 15-20 years.
Vince Gilligan was a fan of The X-Files who submitted a script for that series, became a staff writer then executive producer, then supervising producer. But that all ended in 2002 and is followed by a bare patch in the CV until Breaking Bad started in 2008.
David Simon was a journalist who ended up being disillusioned by that career, wrote a book about the crime scene in Baltimore. That got picked up to become a TV series, which led to him writing HBO miniseries The Corner, which then led to The Wire.
So lots of different routes to the privileged position of Showrunner Of Classically Brilliant TV Series. But it’s not just those guys: Danny Boyle started on Eastenders and Casualty before Trainspotting, and even his Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire was intended to be a straight-to-DVD blip until he made it good enough to gross hundreds of millions of dollars and win all the awards going.
Clearly there are certain industries in which you have to start at the bottom, paying your dues and proving yourself. But from what I’ve read, these guys were obviously brilliant in the beginning, allowing them to move faster and higher than their colleagues. However, they still needed a hell of a lot of patience and perhaps a hell of a lot of experience, with every solved problem on Northern Exposure possibly leading to a better situation on The Sopranos.
Maybe, like Alan Parker, you’re taking the first steps on a long and prestigious road.
Maybe, like Joe Bloggs, you will never rise above the mediocre.
Fortunately you can switch paths whenever you like.