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Running the Show: Where the writers behind your favorite TV shows explain how they made them

“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Young Rock,” “One Day At A Time,” and “Shameless.”
Running the Show: Where the writers behind your favorite TV shows explain how they made it. Clockwise from top left: “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Young Rock,” “One Day At A Time,” and “Shameless.”
(ABC/NBC/Pop TV/Showtime)
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It’s no simple feat to create must-see TV — in whatever form — in an era when there’s more TV than anyone can watch in a lifetime.

Running the Show is a recurring feature in which I speak with showrunners — the industry term for the person in charge in every aspect of a TV show — about how they do what they do. How did Krista Vernoff of “Grey’s Anatomy” and its spinoff “Station 19” pull off the surprise return of a former cast member during a COVID-19 pandemic? How does Dan Goor of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” envision wrapping up the cop comedy?

Here are the conversations with the creative minds behind some of the TV shows you can’t stop watching. The discussions cover a range of topics, including their journey, their craft, their frustrations and, well, their shows.

There is still an awards season. And, as always, The Times will be right there to capture all of it, from those living in the spotlight to those working backstage on ‘The Envelope’ podcast.

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Nahnatchka Khan, “Young Rock”

Nahnatchka Khan with a director's chair labeled "Natasha Sandwheels" and a pillow with the face of actor Keanu Reeves.
“Young Rock’s” Nahnatchka Khan, in her Fierce Baby Productions office, in Hollywood. The director’s chair is labeled with an alias, Natasha Sandwheels; the pillow features the face of actor Keanu Reeves, who had a memorable cameo in Netflix’s romantic comedy “Always Be My Maybe,” which Khan directed.
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

“It’s not a fiefdom. You hire talented people, let them bring their talent, let them contribute. And as the director, as the showrunner, your job is to not allow the boat to tip over, to know where you’re going, keep that tone steady. And allow other people to bring what they do best.” READ MORE >>>

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Alena Smith, “Dickinson”

Alena Smith, showrunner of AppleTV+'s "Dickinson"
Alena Smith, showrunner of AppleTV+'s “Dickinson.”
(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

“There’s definitely been so many uncanny ways in which the premise of this show, which uses the 19th century in America to look at where we are today, has just become, at times, overwhelmingly, painfully acute.” READ MORE >>>

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Krista Vernoff, “Grey’s Anatomy”

Krista Vernoff, showrunner of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and "Station 19."
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

“There were a million meetings with epidemiologists and health and safety experts [to begin production during the pandemic]. And the unions were all meeting with the producers and figuring out how to safely bring everyone back. It was heavy lifting, and hundreds of people worked together to make it possible. By the time we were shooting, it felt safe.” READ MORE >>>

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Darren Star, “Emily in Paris”

Darren Star, showrunner of Netflix's "Emily in Paris."
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

“At a certain point you feel like you’re just writing for an artificial world. And I also had a theory about TV — it’s always 20 years behind culture. It’s weird to think of it now, just how censored TV has always been, network television. Going back to ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ or ‘I Love Lucy,’ when characters, a married couple, couldn’t sleep in the same bed.” READ MORE >>>

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Liz Feldman, “Dead to Me”

Liz Feldman, showrunner of Netflix's "Dead to Me"
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

“I really wanted to be authentic in my portrayal of a woman in grief. ... There was definitely fear around [Christina Applegate’s character] being an angry woman. And what I’ve said in the past about it is that men are angry and they’re a lovable curmudgeon or they’re just like a demanding boss or they’re a dad. And when a woman is angry, she’s like immediately just a monster.” READ MORE >>>

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Pete Nowalk, “How to Get Away With Murder”

Pete Nowalk, creator and showrunner of ABC's "How to Get Away With Murder."
Pete Nowalk, creator and showrunner of ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder.”
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“I hold very dear to my heart any of the LGBTQ content in the show. Growing up, I don’t have a memory of knowing what a gay person looked like, except my parents saw ‘La Cage aux Folles,’ and I think I saw a picture for that on the playbill. Or there was like a suicidal gay character on some TV show. But in terms of an adult that I could grow up to be, there was nothing. So you’re thinking, ‘What is my future going to look like?’ READ MORE >>>

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Dan Goor, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”

Dan Goor, co-creator and executive producer of Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

“The show was designed to be a show that doesn’t have an end. That doesn’t mean it won’t end. ... It’s interesting now as we get into this late middle age of the show to think about what an end would be. When we get there, we want it to feel right, but in some ways it’s hard because it’s like I want to feel like these guys and gals, that they’re all going to hang out together forever.” READ MORE >>>

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Marta Kauffman, “Grace and Frankie”

Marta Kauffman, showrunner of Netflix's "Grace and Frankie.”
Marta Kauffman, showrunner of Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie.”
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“I’ve learned that I can balance a lot, that I can keep all the balls in the air [as a showrunner]. And I’ve learned I really like to lead. ... I love the collaboration among the writers, with the actors, with people from our crew who have great ideas. I find that I just want to do the stuff I absolutely love doing and that there’s still so much ahead. ... We work too hard not to do stuff we love.” READ MORE >>>

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Karin Gist, “Mixed-ish”

Karin Gist, creator and showrunner of ABC's "Mixed-ish."
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

“I want to be able to have the stuff that I work on or write be a part of the conversation. I think it’s important to have people walk away from something and think about the world, or at least I hope to have challenged the way they think or have a conversation with somebody else about it.” READ MORE >>>

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John Wells, “Shameless”

John Well,  showrunner of Showtime’s “Shameless.”
John Well, showrunner of Showtime’s “Shameless.”
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

“It took seven years before we got [“Shameless”] made. And it was sort of remarkable to me, given some of my history and various family experiences, [but] people didn’t think this kind of family existed in the United States. When I first started pitching, people didn’t understand what the income inequality was and how unbelievably difficult it is to work your way out of more impoverished circumstances.” READ MORE >>>

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Kerry Ehrin, “The Morning Show”

Kerry Ehrin, showrunner of Apple+ drama "The Morning Show"
Kerry Ehrin, showrunner of Apple+ drama “The Morning Show”
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

“There was this idea that there needed to be a presence of #MeToo in [‘The Morning Show.’]. And I was just like, don’t do a ‘presence.’ That’s it — like, the whole thing. That’s what the subject is. There’s no subject bigger or more important right now.” READ MORE >>>

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Mike Schur, “The Good Place”

Michael Schur, the creator and showrunner of NBC's "The Good Place."
Michael Schur, the creator and showrunner of NBC’s “The Good Place.”
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

“It used to be that everybody had the same goal, which was make as much money as you can, as fast as you can. I mean, it’s not that you can’t make money that way. ... [But] you can now make a good living, and the studio can profit from your good living, when you make the exact idea that you want to make, exactly the way you want to make it, with exactly the number of episodes you think it merits. The idea can dictate the length of the show ... and it makes everyone’s life better because we didn’t have to do three seasons of this show where we just frantically ran in place and threw stuff against a wall and hoped that people didn’t get sick of us.” READ MORE >>>

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DJ Nash, “A Million Little Things”

DJ Nash,  the showrunner of ABC's "A Million Little Things."
DJ Nash, the showrunner of ABC’s “A Million Little Things.”
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“My first showrunner ever was Larry Wilmore, and he said to me, ‘You don’t have to take every note. You just have to let them know you heard every note.’ And I think whether that’s a fellow writer, whether that’s a network exec, whether that’s an actor on set, whether it’s a director — I think about what I want. I don’t need everyone to agree with me. I just need to know, ‘OK, you heard me.’” READ MORE >>>

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Marc Guggenheim, “Carnival Row”

Marc Guggenheim, showrunner of Amazon’s Victorian fantasy drama, “Carnival Row.”
Marc Guggenheim, showrunner of Amazon’s Victorian fantasy drama, “Carnival Row.”
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

“Before I go to bed at night, when my head hits the pillow, I will write a scene in my head. That’s usually going to be the first scene I write in the morning, so it’s kind of pre-written, which makes the day go by easier. The other thing I do is ... I’ll watch a couple of minutes or read a couple pages of something that I call a ‘tuning fork,’ something that is similar to what I’m working on that’s sort of just like a singer trying to hit the right note. ‘This is a good one.’ Like, this is the note. This is the thing that is compatible with what I am writing at that moment in time.” READ MORE >>>

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Jennie Snyder Urman, “Jane the Virgin”

Jennie Snyder Urmann, showrunner of the CW's "Jane the Virgin."
Jennie Snyder Urmann, showrunner of the CW’s “Jane the Virgin.”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

“I didn’t know if [‘Jane the Virgin’] was my story to tell, and I still don’t know. Except that I know that this iteration of ‘Jane’ was mine to tell with the group of people that I surrounded myself with. But I felt anxious about it. And then I took a walk and the pilot just laid out for me ... and it became a story about mothers and daughters and grandmothers and that matriarchy. I knew I had to make sure there were other voices in the room besides mine filling in what I couldn’t. If it was offered to me now, would I [do it]? I don’t know.” READ MORE >>>

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Deirdre Connolly, “Watch What Happens Live!”

Deidre Connolly, showrunner of Bravo's late-night series "Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen."
(Beatrice de Gea / For The Times)

“Management is not something that is always taught. It’s just something people take for granted that you’re able to do. And truthfully, I don’t think a lot of people are great managers. For me the No. 1 thing is embracing confrontation and not feeling like that’s a bad word. It’s understanding that confrontation is actually the most compassionate way to solve a problem. If I’m internalizing something and I’m upset the way that something’s happening, and I’m allowing it to take up so much space in me, who does that help?” READ MORE >>>

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Lauren Morelli, “Tales of the City”

Lauren Morelli, showrunner of Netflix's "Tales of the City."
Lauren Morelli, showrunner of Netflix’s “Tales of the City.”
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“When I told people that I wanted to hire queer people, the vast majority of submissions I got were white and male and of a certain age. Luckily I had that experience of watching Jenji [Kohan] staff. I went after playwrights, and I just started asking everybody I knew, like, ‘Who do you know that’s not on my radar? Who do you love? Who do you respect?’ I would say probably 50% of the room came to me from friends recommending other people to me. I was just really scouring the depths to make sure we were finding exciting voices.” READ MORE >>>

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Tanya Saracho, “Vida”

"Vida" showrunner Tanya Saracho
Tanya Saracho, showrunner of Starz’s “Vida.”
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“I didn’t know how to write TV when I got here. ... But I thought maybe I could make some money so I could keep doing my theater stuff. It was like, whatever I do, the end purpose is theater. My first year as a TV writer, I remember the No. 2 of that first writers’ room told me: ‘You know your theater stuff is going to be tainted.’ I was like, ‘Never! I am a theater artiste.’ But he was so right. My scenes are different. The way I tell the story is different. ... I can’t dream plays anymore. Now I dream stories that keep going. It’s weird.” READ MORE >>>

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Steve Holland, “Big Bang Theory”

"Big Bang Theory" showrunner Steve Holland.
Steve Holland, showrunner of CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.”
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

“I love binge-watching things, but I do think part of the reason [‘The Big Bang Theory’] means a lot to a lot of people is that they’ve spent 12 years with it. They’ve spent this amount of time, and I don’t know that you get that same level of involvement when you watch a season in two days and then move on. It’s just a different experience.” READ MORE >>>

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Aline Brosh McKenna, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

Aline Brosh McKenna, showrunner of the CW's musical dramedy, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend."
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

“Looking at the ratings, for us, is really pointless. We realized early on that no one’s going to watch [‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’] in any substantial numbers live on network television. So we gave up on that. I would say Rachel [Bloom, co-creator and star] and I check that, but very early on, we knew that if they were going to leave us on the air, it’s not going to be for the ratings.” READ MORE >>>

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Gloria Calderón Kellett, “One Day at a Time”

Gloria Calderón Kellett, co-showrunner of “One Day at a Time."
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

“I was really stunned that there were so many dudes. I didn’t think it was mostly, like, 50-year-old white guys that write everything. I really was shocked. There was a woman on staff [for ‘Quintuplets’ on Fox] who was so kind to me, and I will never forget her kindness. We were not allowed to sit next to each other. They literally pulled me aside, and said, ‘You can’t sit next to her.’” READ MORE >>>

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