|WGA’s Showrunner Training Program Preps a New Generation of Television Creators
LOS ANGELES -- The Writers Guild of America, West kicked off the first session of its fourth annual Showrunner Training Program on Saturday, January 10, 2009, at WGAW headquarters in Los Angeles. The six-week industry training program, a partnership between the WGAW and television networks and studios, is designed for senior-level writer-producers to develop the essential skills necessary to become successful showrunners.
WGAW Assistant Executive Director Ann Widdifield welcomed the diverse group of participants and mentors for the opening session “From Writer to Manager”. Keynote speakers on hand included CBS President Nina Tassler, SRTP co-founder John Wells (ER, The West Wing), and co-founder and SRTP chair Jeff Melvoin (Army Wives).
“This program is a gift. A gift to (writers) and a gift to (networks),” said Nina Tassler. “We all benefit from it. We now work in an industry where running a show is really running a large corporation. The idea of having training to run that is a profound thing."
“The essential thing about the Program is that we're beginning to make inroads into increasing the percentage of working executive producers who are properly trained,” said Wells.
“The Showrunner Training Program has been universally well-received. The Program is a great example of the Guild and the networks working cooperatively for the benefit of the television community,” said Widdifield. “We are grateful for the generous participation of our showrunners and the funding provided by the companies which make this program possible.”
Now in its fourth year, the Showrunner Training Program has quickly grown into a prestigious program for the WGA and its members. The sessions offer knowledge crucial to the process of going from writer to showrunner, with panels and roundtable discussions featuring a range of television professionals from directors to network executives to actors, editors and location managers.
Graduates from the SRTP who have gone on to create their own shows include Matt Nix (Burn Notice), Sam Baum (Lie To Me), Glen Mazzara (Crash), and Abraham Higginbotham (Do Not Disturb).
Upcoming SRTP sessions are all-day seminars on five more Saturdays, running through February 21st. Employing lecture and interactive test-case scenarios, as well as large and small group discussions, the program gives participants an intimate setting to interact with some of Hollywood’s most successful and experienced showrunners.
Following Saturday’s initial session, the innovative program’s core curriculum is slated to include the following topics:
Session #2: Managing Production & Directors, featuring David Shore (House), Carol Barbee (Swingtown), and Matt Nix (Burn Notice), directors Lesli Linka Glatter (ER), Deran Sarafin (House), and Kevin Dowling (Swingtown).
Session #3: Managing Writers & the Script Process, featuring Bill Lawrence (Scrubs), Yvette Lee Bowser (Lipstick Jungle), James Duff (The Closer), Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights), and Mike Scully (The Simpsons).
Session #4: Managing Actors & Executives, featuring showrunners Neal Baer (Law & Order: SVU), Kari Lizer (New Adventure of Old Christine), Chris Sheridan (Family Guy), Peter Tolan (Rescue Me), former network president Susanne Daniels and actors David Paymer, CCH Pounder and Hamish Linklater.
Session #5: Managing Post-Production, slated as a one-day “field trip” to a post production facility where participants observe first-hand each of the stages of post, as taught by Alicia Hirsch, vice president of post production, Fox Studio Television.
Session #6: Managing Your Career, featuring Bowser, Melvoin, John Wirth and Josh Friedman (Sarah Conner Chronicles), Greer Shepard (The Closer), Chuck Lorre (Two & A Half Men, Big Bang Theory), Greg Berlanti (Brothers and Sisters), Greg Garcia (My Name Is Earl).
The program also includes two half-day “break-out” sessions with Wells talking about “Budget & Scheduling,” and Stephen J. Cannell (The Rockford Files, Wiseguy) on “The Pilot Process.”
To select participants, writers on the Showrunner Training Program Committee considered 75 eligible applicants and accepted 24 writers and/or writing teams, all of whom were recommended by television showrunners and/or network and studio creative executives for the in-demand seminar slots covering both comedy and dramatic series.
The Showrunner Training Program is the brainchild of both Melvoin and Wells. The pair, along with other SRTP committee members, as well as program director Carole Kirschner, played integral roles in developing the Guild’s current program. In addition to Wells and Melvoin, the SRTP Committee includes showrunners Bowser, John Wirth, and Nicole Yorkin. Also on the SRTP committee are television executives Harry Isaacs (CBS) and Marc Sandman (Touchstone), who continue to serve as program consultants.
Participants in the WGAW’s 2009 Showrunner Training Program are:
Chad Fiveash & James Stoteraux
John Hlavin & Angela Russo
Turi Meyer & Al Septien
Kathleen "Bird" York