Screenwriters Moira Buffini, Martha Hillier, Emilia di Girolamo, Olivia Hetreed, Sophie Petzal, Alice Nutter and Tahsin Guner have backed best-practice guidelines on showrunning in the UK published today by WGGB ahead of a special launch event this evening (Thursday 12 November).
Showrunning in the UK: A Best Practice Guide has been created by WGGB in consultation with experienced UK and US screenwriters and others in the TV industry who have worked with UK writer-showrunners.
The guidelines have arisen in response to the growing trend of British TV shows employing UK-based writers in an attempt to adopt the writer-showrunner model, long prevalent in the US, where a lead writer takes on many of the responsibilities of an executive producer, including that of selecting writers and managing a writers’ room.
The term ‘showrunner’ is not one currently used on writing contracts in the UK, but is used informally inside and outside the broadcast industry here. Historically, shows written in the UK have been more likely to consist of shorter, authored seasons written by a single writer or pair of writers working in close collaboration, or long-running dramas in which major decisions about the show’s tone and story arc are made by non-writing producers.
The guidelines set out a framework for best practice, including the roles and responsibilities of the showrunner and pay structures. Topics include diversity in writers’ rooms, cultural consultants, story conferences, rewriting, mentoring, script and rebrief fees (view a one-page summary).
It features guest panelists Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, Trust, The Full Monty); Sophie Petzal (Blood, The Last Kingdom, Riviera, Medici) and Emilia di Girolamo.
“Showrunning has well and truly reached our shores, and for creativity’s sake we want it to flourish, but to flourish fairly – which is why these new guidelines are so timely. I welcome Showrunning in the UK and hope that it will become a guiding light for broadcasters, producers and showrunners themselves.”
“We applaud any opportunity for writers to take control of realising their own creative vision. Showrunning in the UK is a hybrid of the USA showrunner and writers’ room systems but without comparable financial investment. Our new guidelines set out best practice for broadcasters, producers and showrunners themselves, and demonstrate the urgent need for makers of UK TV to establish fair and transparent systems for writers and prevent a conflict of interest between creative vision and financial reward.
“We hope they are widely adopted amongst the broadcast industry in the UK and become the bedrock upon which this emerging model can flourish.”
“The rise of the writer-showrunner is a positive development for creators, producers and audiences in the UK. Thanks to showrunners’ hard work and unique vision, we’re able to enjoy many more episodes of our favourite shows. Killing Eve [pictured above], Succession, Call the Midwife, Black Mirror and Doctor Who are just a few examples of writer-led successes.
“But the realities of the UK industry usually preclude American-style writers’ rooms (in which writers are full-time employees with generous salaries and benefits) and we have less tradition to draw upon when it comes to writers being responsible for hiring and firing each other.
“As a union, in the last few years we’ve dealt with an increasing number of enquiries from members about how the writer-showrunner system should work, and it’s become clear that there is an urgent need to establish standards for good practice. Our new guidelines have been written in consultation with UK and international showrunners, and we hope that they will help to clear up confusion and point the way towards a more creative and equitable future.”
The following screenwriters, all WGGB members, have pledged their support for the WGGB guidelines:
Olivia Hetreed (Girl with a Pearl Earring, Wuthering Heights, Finding Altamira) and former WGGB President, said: “An incredibly timely, clear and measured guide to the role of showrunner and how it can and should operate in the UK. Essential reading for all TV writers and anyone who works with writers.”
Emilia di Girolamo (The Tunnel, Medici, Law & Order, My Name is Lizzie) said:
“With increasing opportunities for showrunners in the UK, as a WGGB member I wholeheartedly welcome my union creating guidelines that will help establish fairer, clearer working practices in the UK for both showrunners and writers.”
Martha Hillier (The Last Kingdom, Vera, Versailles) said: “These guidelines come at just the right time: things have changed a great deal for series writers over the last couple of years and this blueprint gives a great framework for everyone to do their best work in a supportive environment.”
Alice Nutter (Trust, The White Princess, The Mill, Justice) said: “These much needed guidelines will support writers and showrunners. We need best practice and this will help set us on that road.”
Sophie Petzal (Blood, The Last Kingdom, Riviera, Medici) said: “As the TV drama landscape has evolved in the UK, our ways of writing these shows have also changed. It is vital that our processes and structures keep up with these changes, to ensure fairness, safety, transparency and opportunity for all. These guidelines are an excellent step forward and I hope to see all companies, channels and writers subscribing to them.”
Moira Buffini (Harlots, The Dig, Jane Eyre, Capital Lives) said: “I’m happy to endorse these guidelines and it’s very useful to have them.”
Tahsin Guner (Killed By My Debt, Father Brown)
Main photo from the set of Killing Eve: Shutterstock.com/Mr Pics; photo of Ellie Peers: Reece Lipman @ Chocolate Films;