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Ranking THR's 50 Best Television Showrunners

By Dustin Rowles | Seriously Random Lists | October 4, 2012 | Comments ()


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Over on The Hollywood Reporter today, they've released their list of the 50 Best Television Showrunners, but weirdly, they were not ranked. Revealing the 50 Best showrunners currently on television is kind of like naming ALL the showrunners. Sure, there are some missing (Greg Daniels on The Office, for instance), but when you're ticking off the showrunner for Dallas, you know you've basically hit the bottom of the barrel and you've offered now real qualitative analysis. Moreover, they've included Neilsen ratings in their methodology, and I dislike when quality is conflated with ratings. They're two different things, obviously.

So, for my own edification and because it's more likely to provoke disagreement (yay! Internet fuel!) I've taken their list of the 50 Best Showrunners and I've ranked them from worst to best. Once I got to the top 15 or so, I began to understand why THR decided not to rank: It gets a little dicey.


50. Cynthia Cidre -- Dallas
49. Bruce Helford -- Anger Management
48. Michael Patrick King -- 2 Broke Girls
47. Chuck Lorre -- Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, Mike & Molly
46. Carol Mendelson and Pam Veasey -- Team CSI
45. Oliver Goldstick and Marlene King -- Pretty Little Liars
44. Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage -- Gossip Girl and Hart of Dixie
43. Peter Lenkov -- Hawaii 5-0
42. Salim and Mara Brock Akil -- The Game
41. Janet Tamaro -- Rizzoli and Isles
40. David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik -- Episodes
39. Matt Nix -- Burn Notice
38. Bruno Heller -- The Mentalist
37. Shane Brennen and Gary Glasberg -- Team NCIS
36. Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman -- Person of Interest
35. Greer Shephard -- Longmire
34. Team Seth MacFarlane -- Family Guy
33. Blake Anderson, Adam Devine, Anders Holm, Kyle Newachek and Kevin Etten -- Workaholics
32. Emily Kapnek -- Suburgatory
31. Shonda Rhimes and Betsey Beers -- Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal
30. Mike Kelley -- Revenge
29. Kevin Willamson and Julie Plec -- The Vampire Diaries
28. Hart Hanson -- Bones
27. Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis -- Once Upon a Time
26. Al Jean -- The Simpsons
25. Carter Bays and Craig Thomas -- How I Met Your Mother
24. Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd -- Modern Family
23. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk -- American Horror Story and Glee
22. Glen Mazzara -- The Walking Dead
21. Aaron Korsh -- Suits
20. Greg Garcia -- Raising Hope
19. Lauren Iungerich -- Awkward
18. John Wells -- Shameless
17. Kurt Sutter -- Sons of Anarchy
16. Jullian Fellows -- Downton Abbey
15. Liz Meriwether, Brett Baer and David Finkel -- New Girl
14. David Caspe, Jonathan Groff and Josh Bycel -- Happy Endings
13. Terence Winter -- Boardwalk Empire
12. Michelle and Robert King -- The Good Wife
11. Aaron Sorkin -- Newsroom
10. Armando Ianucci -- Veep
9. Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner -- Girls
8. Jason Katims -- Parenthood
7. Alex Gansa -- Homeland
6. Mike Schur -- Parks and Recreation
5. Louie C.K. -- Louie
4. Graham Yost -- Justified
3. Matthew Weiner -- Mad Men
2. D.B. Weiss and David Benioff -- Game of Thrones
1. Vince Gilligan -- Breaking Bad

(Source: THR)



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Comments Are Welcome, Douches Are Not


  • Jezzer

    I fully expected to see Dan Fucking Harmon in all 50 slots. I would appreciate the restraint, but I see Lena Fucking Dunham is in your top 10, ABOVE Armando Ianucci, so clearly someone has lost his goddamned mind.

    I, of course, say this with love. <3

  • al

    What about Shawn Ryan? He did The Shield, Terriers, and now Last Resort, which so far is one of the better network dramas i've seen in a while.

  • Bennetttt

    No Nurse Jackie, but 2 Broke Girls, Two And A Half Men, and Hawaii 5-0. Somehow that makes me think this list is pointless.

  • alwaysanswerb

    Is this really ranking showrunners, or just ranking shows?

  • My_Time_Machine

    I'm begrudging Ryan Murphy's inclusion. He has some great ideas, and his shows start off with a lot of promise, and then.... I don't know. He cracks under pressure or goes on a cocaine bender or something, and his showrunning turns into Cruella De Ville in the car chase scene (wild hair, crazy eyes, flooring the gas pedal) as his poor show cowers in backseat, screaming in terror.

  • dizzylucy

    I got burned by that for the last time with AHS. No more Murphy shows for me - the guy can't do a second season right to save his life. And in the case of Glee and AHS, they started to go bad before season 1 even ended.

  • sal paradise

    I remember that scene terrifying me as a child. And picturing Ryan Murphy in that scenario causes Adult Me to scamper behind the couch and whimper.

  • L.O.V.E.

    Its no coincidence that the list is top heavy with cable shows where the show runners get more latitude to execute their vision. But I have to give credit to those runners who have more constraints via network tv and still put out a quality product.

  • This bitch: 28. Hart Hanson — Bones

    ..but no Alan Ball? Fuck this noise. Hart Hanson is a boil on the asscrack of humanity. He RUINED Bones out of pure petty spite because of the unhappiness fans were expressing with what he had done to the formerly beloved characters.

  • Hart Hanson continues to amaze me with how badly he has ruined his show. It is so hippy, liberal, preachy, ridiculousness and almost unrecognizable to the drama that it was the first 6 seasons of the show.

  • Matt

    Wait just a minute...is Bill Lawrence not on this list because he just left Cougar Town, or because someone thinks he's worse than Chuck Lorre?

  • Artemis

    Can someone explain Once Upon a Time to me? I can understand why it pulls in good ratings, but I just can't understand why people think it's a quality show (or even an above-mediocre one). I watched 3/4 of the first season and last week's premiere, and it's just... unbelievably badly written and acted. I like the premise a lot, and I don't even mind most of the plot, but I can't get past how much I don't give a single shit about any of the characters or how incredibly bad the dialogue is.

  • Idle Primate

    i only made it through half the first season, and i have a low bar for anything fantasy/sci-fi/speculative. like, i usually watch all the genre shows.

  • AudioSuede

    Sorkin outside of the top ten is a case of selective amnesia of everything the man's done before 2012.

  • Mei-Lu McGonigle

    But, we ARE talking showrunning NOT television writing. For all my disappointment in Newsroom, I think Sorkin is among the best television and film writers of the last ten years; HOWEVER he is a TERRiBLE showrunner. The last two shows, the ones he's had the most creative control over, have been badly run and it shows in the quality of the scripts as well as the critical and financial reception for those two shows. As much as I admire Sorkin, I would not accept any amount of money to work in his writer's room. I would by far rather work for Alan Ball who is professional (on time, under budget, more or less emotionally stable), creates an opportunity for his writers to grow, and has produced critically and financial successful products while doing it.

  • ed newman

    Unfortunately, I think Dustin ranked them solely on the strength of the shows they are currently producing. I agree with you that consideration of the entire body of work would have made for a better list. It's like rating musicians on the basis of one album.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I don't see the guys from It's Always Sunny on here either, nor do I see Archer's Adam Reed. Did THR have some odd criteria that excluded them?

  • nONE

    why so low for Chuck Lorre?? and Awkward and Suburgatory so high??

  • Bert_McGurt

    It's probably because Lorre's running three shows with nary half a brain between them.

  • ashley

    Is Steven Moffat not considered a showrunner, or simply not considered a member of the top 50?

  • My_Time_Machine

    It seems as if he's just not part of the top 50 -- he could be eligible for either "Doctor Who" or "Sherlock." I say "Booooo!" to that exclusion. (And I'll throw in an extra "Booo!" because Mark Gatiss could have been named for "Sherlock," too.)

  • ashley

    That's what I thought. I'm going to create a new list that ranks the authors of this list on a scale from "terrible" to "the living worst."

  • lowercase_ryan

    I honestly think Weiss and Benioff deserve the top spot. They have had to make so many tweeks and adjustments bringing the books to the screen, I can't imagine how difficult it's been. Cheers to them for actually improving on the source material in many ways (imo).

  • ed newman

    On the other hand, they had the starting material to work with. So many of the others had to come up with the stories from scratch.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I think that is what is so hard. Taking something that is only limited in scope to Martin's imagination (which is insane) and molding it to fit the medium is, I think, way harder than running a show that was created specifically for the television.

  • ed newman

    I see your point, but both are pretty hard. I'm not sure extra credit is really deserved.

  • lowercase_ryan

    fair enough.

  • Ted Zancha

    Louis CK in the top five. I love it.

    Vince Gilligan rightfully deserves the number one spot.

  • sal paradise

    Ditto on Harmon. Also, even though he's not a current showrunner, Eric Kripke for the first five seasons of Supernatural

  • kate

    Given the list includes shows that were last on the air around the time Community was, Dan Harmon should really be on here.

  • Greg Daniels should have been on this list ...Forget what The Office became after Season 6,but seasons 2-5 are absolute comedy gold.

  • Al Jean is STILL running the Simpsons?! What the flying fuck? That explains the (putting it lightly) creative stagnation. That must be like having a dude in an iron lung coaching the football team.
    Bring back David Mirkin! (Seasons 5 and 6, baby!)

  • Uriah_Creep

    Zeke obviously knows where it's at.

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