First of all, who the hell came up with the word “showrunner”? Didn’t this job used to be called “producer”? When I hear showrunner, I think of the shiny tassels hanging from the base of a parade float that, in addition to adding elegance, serve to hide the wheels. Actually, I don’t watch parades, so maybe there’s no such thing. But if there were and someone asked me to name them, I’d call them showrunners.
The guy in charge of a TV show, on the other hand, is a producer. Try calling Norman Lear a showrunner. He’d punch you in the face (men were men back in the ‘70s, despite the contrary claim in his theme song for All in the Family). Or I can picture an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in which Larry David says, “Did Jason Alexander just call me a Showrunner? What the fuck is that, some kind of an insult? I can’t believe the son of a bitch called me a showrunner!”
But the showrunner I am advising today is one Scott Gimple, who is replacing Glen Mazzara, who replaced Frank Darabont as person-in-charge of AMC’s The Walking Dead. I don’t know why this show experiences so much turnover, but I suspect it is because of unsafe working conditions and poor zombie wrangling. You’d think someone with a fancypants job title like Showrunner would have personal security, but I guess there’s always that temptation to stick your fingers in the zombie cage, isn’t there?
R.I.P Glen Mazzara and Frank Darabont. I hope you choked them on the way down.
My first bit of advice for Scott Gimple is to change his last name. No one is going to listen to a guy called Gimple. It’s simple, pimple, and gimp all rolled into one, and the psychological effect on others will be devastating for the man. 13-year-old Chandler Riggs, who plays Carl, will be sending the guy out for cigarettes and coffee for months before someone whispers to him that Gimple is actually the boss. I recommend he call himself Jacob Zod instead. That will make him sound manly and smart, and a bit like a super villain. And the last name subtly evokes zombies.
My real advice for Scott Gimple is to go British and shorten the season to 10 episodes. People rave about British television because the writing is good, and the writing is good because they produce so few episodes per season. Each entry means something.
The difficulty associated with writing too many episodes per season grows exponentially when the storyline is continuous, as with The Walking Dead. Good TWD entries are rousing, tense, emotional affairs that leave the viewer spent. The bad episodes are tedious and frustrating. It’s the inherent flaw in a high-stakes, life-or-death adventure show without a defined end point. Not every story in a 16 or 18-show season can be gangbusters, because you’d quickly run out of people to kill and conflicts to resolve. So you need filler.
It has become a familiar pattern throughout seasons two and three, in which a Holy Shit entry (such as when the Governor, played by David Morrissey, rammed the prison gate with a truck full of zombies) is followed by a pointless exercise like last week’s episode in which Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the Governor stared at each other across a table for an hour. The villain becomes far less menacing when the hero meets him face to face and nothing happens. The writers tried to liven up the story by having Merle (Michael Rooker) stir up shit back at the prison, but it felt contrived.
I surmise that each of the past two seasons features about 5 to 6 pointless episodes, so cutting down to 10 total would allow each story to be relevant and to feel like an event. That way, the recent, excellent entry “Clear,” in which Rick reconnects with Morgan (Lennie James), his savior from the series premier, could stand out as the strong character-driven piece that it is. The fact that it was followed a week later by an hour of meaningless filler mutes its poignancy.
Of course, they won’t shorten the season for reasons of advertising revenue, but that’s rather shortsighted when you have people turning away from the show from intermittent boredom, as I’ve noticed some doing. In other words, customer loyalty comes from quality, not quantity.
My third suggestion for Gimple is to find a new hero. Rick is an incompetent leader and a douchebag, which might be a good bit of realism, but it makes for some irritating TV viewing. Meanwhile, the show’s fans positively salivate over the character of Michonne (Danai Gurira), the sword-wielding badass in dreadlocks, despite that she rarely has much to do. I recently checked out a live meet-and-greet event with the cast, and Gurira was on another level. I mean, literally, she was upstairs doing a photo-op. Like we say in professional wrestling, she was the Whole F-ing Show.
I don’t care what happened in the comics. How about Michonne and crossbow-carrying Daryl (Norman Reedus) ditch Rick and the prison and start their own adventure that involves more zombies and motorcycles and fewer Hyundai SUVs and macho staring contests. It will be a simpler, sweeter story in which characters get to display their emotional sensitivity and maybe sing a song or two. Which would be perfect for a guy named Gimple.