Marvel's Disney+ Shows' Lack Of Showrunners Is Worrying Veteran TV Writers

TV is the writer's medium, and it's been that way for a long time. But could Marvel Studios — which has already disrupted the superhero-inundated movie industry to a massive degree — change the TV landscape too? That's what many TV veterans are worried about, in a new report that hones in on Marvel's foray into TV with its Disney+ shows WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and their pointed avoidance of a TV staple: the showrunner.

Variety talks to several TV writers and showrunners who are concerned that Marvel Studios may be doing away with the role of the "showrunner" altogether. For decades, TV has traditionally run on the showrunner model, in which one (and occasionally two) writer-executive producers run the show and has final say. But Marvel has been judiciously avoiding using the word "showrunner" to describe the roles of the creatives who are spearheading the writing side of the show, instead calling WandaVision's Jac Schaeffer and Falcon and the Winter Soldier's Malcolm Spellman "head writer."

Kari Skogland, who directs all episodes of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, said in an interview following the show's finale, "Marvel is using the features model." Variety writes:

Effectively, the studio is making its TV shows as if they were roughly six-hour movies, applying the same production methodology it's used for the 23 unprecedentedly successful interconnected feature films that comprise the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That means empowering directors to lead a lot of creative decision-making, in collaboration with a small cadre of hands-on Marvel creative executives who are with the project from the beginning and report up to Feige.

But this is leaving TVwriters worried about the future of TV now that Marvel has two hits under its belt using this newfangled model. Variety notes that writers outside of the Marvel sphere fear that Marvel's approach will deminish the "wide creative autonomy showrunners have traditionally wielded in TV — with directors and executives not just calling more shots within the production but also sitting in the writers' room and requesting rewrites."

"At some point, it'll bite them in the ass when it comes to recruiting top-shelf writer talent," a writer of "elevated genre TV" (whatever that means... Noah Hawley, is that you?) told Variety. "If you're a midlevel writer getting a giant bump to 'run' a Marvel show, of course you're going to do it. But if you're an experienced showrunner with multiple shows under your belt, are you gonna work under those conditions? Probably not."

One Emmy-winning writer noted that Marvel shows "do have a showrunner. It's Feige — which is fine! I just wouldn't want to work that way, that's all."

Feige's influence over Marvel's Disney+ shows is indisputable. During the press for WandaVision, the Marvel chief was constantly credited with coming up with the idea for the show, and Feige has been involved every step of the way for both WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It befits Marvel's strict hierarchy — that the buck stops with Feige — but it doesn't bode well for TV, where "writers reign supreme," one prolific showrunner said.

And there's the concern that the collaborative process that involve both the head writer and director will eventually end up tipping in the director's favor, like in movies. "Within the circles I run in of writers, there is an absolute concern about people returning to the idea that it is the filmmaker that makes the story special, and not the writer," the showrunner said.

Of course, Marvel hasn't explicitly said they're turning away from the showrunner model. But future TV series under Disney+ — of which there are 12 slated for 2021 and beyond — seem to suggest this. But whether that approach will bleed out into the overall TV landscape, that's yet to be seen.