Newman/Levine’s chapter “The Showrunner As Auteur” acknowledges the rising role of the showrunner as the primary author, or mastermind of a show, and how the elevation to showrunner legitimizes television as “quality TV”. By filling the role of “story-teller in chief” and “original creator” (39), the showrunner promotes him or herself to status of the film director—only, a film director for the small screen artsy realm(40). Like film culture, the showrunner as auteur puts effort into visual aesthetics, deep narratives, historic accuracy, and consistent motifs (50). He or she is also credited to adding a “personal touch” to the storyline, which makes the oeuvre more identifiable and distinct. (51). By integrating personal motifs, using either consistent or recognizable “aesthetic integrity” (40), and using historic accurate information to propel plots and storylines, the showrunners program is considered legitimate and quality TV because the content challenges its viewers to “brood over and analyze” what is going on in the episode. There is something to chew on rather than blissfully watching a show.
In addition, these types of hour-long shows (or mini movies) allows the showrunner to express originality through personal decisions, personal ideas, thus making what society considers, quality TV. Furthermore, the showrunner is called a showrunner for a reason—because he or she is the boss. Although television shows are undoubtedly a collaborative work, by assigning a showrunner, or in film terms, a director, to run the show equates showrunner (TV) and director (film), thus legitimizing a television show as quality TV, and also raising its commercial status.
David Milch, the showrunner of Deadwood, shows signs of filling Newman/Levin’s analysis of the showrunner as auteur. The article I found was in Esquire from 2011 and began with a reference to the Cohen brother’s True Grit (2011) and how there will be more Westerns following True Grit. Right after that prediction, the article introduced David Milch with, “To get a sense of what those movies might look like, we got up with the creator of the last great Western, Deadwood, which—like too many great genre masterpieces of the last decade—was actually on TV” (Sanction).
First, by linking David Milch with the Cohen brother movie True Grit, elevates David Milch on similar cinematic levels as the Cohen brothers. Instead of opting to link the Cohen brothers with another Western film director, Esquire chose to compare a film to a showrunner’s production: Deadwood. Second, Esquire considers Milch’s Deadwood the “last great Western”. This again supports the notion that not only is David Milch is equivalent to a film director, but his show Deadwood is considered a “great Western” as if it were a movie. This demonstrates how much power and praise television showrunners are receiving like any filmmaker might get. Third, Esquire recognizes that David Milch is the creator of Deadwood thus legitimizes Milch as the showrunner, and also legitimizes his show as quality based on the line” last great Western”.
Furthermore, on the topic of writing stories Milch says, “I try to do the story the way I feel the story should be done, and how that folds in to whatever larger sorts of categories or questions is non of my business”. In this last comment Milch asserts himself as the primary storywriter who not only runs but is the show (40).
Down the page, Esquire shifts from Deadwood to Luck, Milch and Hoffman’s newer production about horse racing. The article mentions that Milch is very familier with Luck’s setting: “a world of horse racing” (Sanction). He says, “When I was a kid…my dad used to take me out to the race track and so many formative experiences have to do with associations like that” (Sanction). Milch’s personal history with horses gives Luck the “personal touch” that Newman and Levine reference to as “boutique television”, television that uniquely created and is not part of the standard “assembly-line fashion of the usual programming” (45). The personal touch of a TV show again, is another way for showrunners to legitimize their show, legitimize themselves, and thus derive commercial and capital benefits.
David Milch fits Newman and Levine’s mold of the showrunner as auteur. He is considered the creator of a great Western by Esquire, he considers himself the creator of Deadwood, and he integrates pieces of his personal history to give his shows a uniqueness, and quality to them so audiences can chew on the content of the small cinematic medium we now call quality television. David Milch is amongst a host of showrunner titans who are currently redefining what exactly, quality television entails.
Sanction, Julian. “David Milch Does Not Believe in Genre”. Esquire. 14, Jan. 2011. Online. 19, April. 2014