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Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Without Whom Television Would Be Rubbish

It's that time again, when I bore you all senseless with another of my Top 5 lists. I've done my favourite actors, and I've done my favourite actresses but now it's time for the big one. The one that you've all been waiting for:

Faplads Favourite Showrunners. Oh Yes.

Usual caveats apply. Not restricting myself to genre stuff here and this is all based entirely on how I feel right now; ask me again in a week and I could well have changed my mind. Although that's less likely with this one than the other two. And so, without further ado...

5 Joe Straczynski

Years ago, when I was but a wee teen, a show arrived on Channel 4 that was set to change the landscape of televisual science fiction completely, revolutionising the way we looked at our shows and raising the bar for what we were going to expect from them. It wasn't very good, and I stopped watching. That show was Babylon 5, and I very quickly came to regret that decision. (It wouldn't happen now, but back then the Quest hadn't quite taken as thorough a hold over me as it would.)

Of course, we all know that the reason Season 1 of Babylon 5 seemed so lifeless and dull was that it was essentially 22 episodes of expository set-up, designed not to entertain (at least not primarily) but rather to prepare the way for future episodes that would entertain; and would do so on a much grander scale than they could ever have achieved without that massive amount of background detail. Was it a flawed way to write a television show? Of course it was, but it was also the first time anyone had tried to do anything on anywhere near this scope in televisual sci-fi. The creator of the show was on a very steep learning curve, and it was one that would almost kill him.

That creator was of course Joe Michael Straczynksi, or JMS as he became known to fans. (Yeah, and you whippersnappers thought you were so clever with your RTD nonsense. Well my generation got there first. Ha) JMS would go on, after B5, to write a few telemovies based on the concept, as well as creating spin-off series Crusade and later the - very good but sadly under appreciated - series Jeremiah, starring Luke Perry.

These days he mostly spends his time taking absolutely ages to write comic books of variable quality, but it shall be for the classic, epic masterpiece that was B5 that he shall forever be remembered. Even if his dialogue is pants.

"Get the Hell out of our galaxy"

4 Howard Overman
(There would be a photo here of Howard Overman but he is religiously opposed to anyone capturing his likeness. Either that or I'm just useless at finding pictures of people on the internet. Feel free to believe whichever seems most likely.)

Vexed is (or was; I'm not sure of the status of any potential second run) a decent enough little comedy but it wouldn't get you on this list. Oh no, I am far more exacting than that. Luckily, Vexed is not the only show Howard Overman has gifted us with.

Misfits. That is all.

3 Aaron Sorkin

Sports Night, The West Wing and Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Two of those would be on my top 10 (possibly top 5) best US shows of all time; one of them was at No.1 for a long time before it was knocked down a peg, by a show created by the next guy on this list funnily enough.

Sports Night even managed to make me a fan despite having the two seemingly insurmountable drawbacks of A) heavily focusing on sport and B) heavily featuring Peter Krause.

Responsible for one of the most standing ovation worthy, "you tell 'em", moments in recent television history (in the Studio 60 pilot; shame no-one listened), Sorkin is nevertheless most famous (in television terms at least), for The West Wing. The show that gave us the White House we all wanted to believe existed but knew didn't, and likely never would. It also gave us Martin Sheen as President Bartlett, Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler and the late John Spencer as Leo McGarry (great characters all) but the shows, and Sorkins, greatest contribution to popular culture was the one, the only, Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford).

Whitford was on my list of top actors and when I get around to doing it, Lymon will be on my list of top characters. And I'd not have heard of either were it not for Aaron Sorkin. If he didn't deserve his place on this list for anything else, although he clearly does, he'd deserve it for that.

2 David Simon

No big spiel about David Simon. Have you watched Homicide : Life On The Street, The Corner, Generation Kill and the sublime The Wire (the show that knocked The West Wing off the top show ever spot)? If you have, you know why David Simon is on this list. If you haven't, you need to go and watch them. Now.

Can't speak for Simons latest show Treme, because I haven't seen it yet but I'd say that it being a quality production is probably the safest bet I'd ever make.

1 Steven Moffat

My first encounter with the work of Steven Moffat was Press Gang, one of the seminal shows of my youth. The show starred Julia Sawalha and Dexter Fletcher as the perennially sparring but obviously meant for each other Linda and Spike (think David and Maddie if they'd met at school and had to run a newspaper together).

Nowadays he is the big cheese on Doctor Who and new kid on the block Sherlock (this with Mark Gatiss).

He's done other stuff in between of course. Coupling was his, and so was Chalk and of course Jekyll, but really, none of that matters*; he wrote Press Gang and he saved Doctor Who.** Those two achievements alone would earn him this most coveted of no.1 spots.

*It does really. They were great.

**He won't thank me for saying that, given that he has often (and vigorously) defended the work of his predecessor on Doctor Who. At first I thought that was simply professional courtesy. Over time I've become convinced he actually means it!

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