Q- You are the current Director of WGA's Showrunner Training Program at Writers Guild of America West. How many applicants did you have for this year?
A- We had over eighty applicants for about twenty five slots. The application process is a two step process. First applicants have to be recommended by current show runners or creative executives. Once they've been recommended, they fill out an application. I review the applications and we end up interviewing about fifty candidates. Out of those fifty candidates we invite approximately twenty five people to participate in the Program. This year's first session was on Saturday, January 14th and it (the program) ran for six consecutive Saturdays.
Q- How long has the Showrunner Training Program been in existence, and can you give the readers a background of its origins?
A- The Showrunner Training Program is the brainchild of writer producer, Jeff Melvoin, who's currently the Executive Producer of the acclaimed Lifetime series, Army Wives. Eight years ago he came up with the idea for the program and together with the then President of the Writers Guild board, John Wells (executive producer, Shamless, Southland, ER, West Wing) they pitched it to the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) who approved it, provided the financing and it became a reality.
Q- How did you get involved in the program and what is your current role?
A- Because of my background as a former television development executive and creator of the CBS Diversity Institute Writers Mentoring Program, I was brought in to help Jeff Melvoin organize the program material into a six week seminar. I am currently the professional director of the program. I vet the candidates, am in every interview and help make the final selections with Jeff Melvoin (Chair of the Show runner Training Program Committee) and Yvette Lee Bowser (Vice Chair, Show runner Training Program Committee). I also recommend the guest speakers, reach out to them, coordinate their involvement and make sure they're happy. In the first year of the program I called all the potential speakers and with a lot of them had to convince them how great the program was. Many speakers graciously participated but there were others who weren't quite convinced. Now I get calls from people asking if they can be a part of the program. It's very gratifying.
Q- Can you name some of the people who come out to speak at the Showrunner Training Program and their various professions?
A- Each year we have over fifty guest speakers. They include high profile show runners like Shawn Ryan (The Shield), Greg Daniel's (The Office, Parks & Rec), David Shore (House), Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad), Michael Patrick King (2 Broke Girls, Sex in the City) and John Wells. In addition to successful show runners who are slated to appear, we have directors, executives, actors, line producers and editors. Every year we include program alumni who have created their own series. This year some of our alumni speakers include Veen Sud (The Killing), Matt Corman and Chris Ord (Covert Affairs), Aaron Korsh (Suits), Craig Shapiro and Elisabeth Krueger (Necessary Roughness) and Tony and Joe Gayton (Hell on Wheels). We also have an entire day at a post-production house where they hear from Alicia Hirsch, Senior Vice President of Post Production at Fox Television Studios along with visual effects editors and music supervisors.
Q- What are the immediate and long term goals of the WGA showrunner program itself? Has the WGA decided how long it will remain in existence?
A- The goal of the WGA Showrunner Training Program is to help senior-level writer-producers hone the skills necessary to become effective, successful show runners in today's television landscape.
The program is done in partnership with the AMPTP and is funded by the companies. Since the program has exceeded expectations on both sides, I think people are focused on the program's future rather than on how long it will be running. I think as long as it continues to be as successful and well regarded as it is, the AMPTP will continue to see its value and fund it.
Q- Can you name some of the writers who have in fact been made show runners (even if not currently on the air) not only recently but since the program began?
A- Sure. There's many. Here's a partial list of creators and executive producers of shows currently and previously on the air, starting with our first class to our most recent...
Darlene Hunt (creator, The C Word)
Steve Blackman (Executive Producer, Private Practice)
Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis (Creators, Once Upon a Time)
Glen Mazzara (Executive Producer, Walking Dead)
Veena Sud (Creator, The Killing)
Craig Sweeny (Executive Producer, Common Law)
Sam Baum (Creator, Lie to Me)
Elisabeth Craft & Sarah Fain (Creators, Women's Murder Club)
Steve Callaghan (Executive Producer, Family Guy)
Jennifer Johnson (Executive Producer, Alcatraz)
Matt Nix (Creator, Burn Notice)
Ken Sanzel (Executive Producer, The 2-2)
Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders (Executive Producers, Smallville)
Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer (Executive Producers, Melrose Place)
Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn (Creators, Haven)
Jon Steinberg (Creator, Human Target)
Scott Rosenbaum (Executive Producer, Chuck)
Don McGill (Exeutive Producer, CSI)
David Hudgins (Creator, Past Life)
Janet Tamaro (Creator, Rizzoli & Isles)
Jill Cargerman (Creator, Working Class)
Rob Rosell & Scott Marder (Creators, Unsupervised)
Matt Corman & Chris Ord (Creators, Covert Affairs)
Leo Chu & Eric Garcia (Creators, Supah Ninjas)
April Blair (Creator, Jane by Design)
Joe & Tony Gayton (Creators, Hell on Wheels)
Aaron Korsh (Creator, Suits)
Craig Shaprio & Elisabeth Kruger (Creators, Unnecessary Roughness)
Q- With respect to writing experience, does the panel take this into consideration? And if so, how much?
A- We don't evaluate candidates based on their writing skills. We assume if they've gotten to the point in their career where they're eligible to apply to the program, than they have seriously strong writing skills. To be eligible to apply a writer has to be at the producer level on a current television series and/or have a pilot in active consideration at a network or studio.
Q- Are there any additional components, i.e. other factors taken into consideration in terms of who gets invited?
A- It's always a difficult decision since so many of the candidates are outstanding choices. We usually consider leadership potential, managerial skills and career experience along with what the make-up of the group is in terms of balancing how many comedy writers with how many drama writers, how many men, how many women, etc. etc. In addition to that, it usually comes down to who is going to need this information most immediately.
Q- What does the end of the program party consist of
A- We have a very low key wine and appetizer get together at the end of the last session so people can connect and debrief since going through the program is an exciting, but pretty intense experience.