Television fans have never had it better. The small screen golden age, which began roughly 20 seconds into the first episode of David Chase’s seminal mob drama The Sopranos and has continued unabated into today, has left armchair critics spoilt by a seemingly unending tide of world class programming. It would once have seemed laughable to question whether television had overtaken film as a storytelling medium, but the debate has been comprehensively answered by the migration of bonafide Hollywood stars and Oscar-winning talent from the Silver Screen to our Living rooms – see Kevin Spacey and Matthew McConaughey’s acclaimed recent turns in House of Cards and True Detective respectively, or the news that Tom Hardy will be appearing in the upcoming series of Peaky Blinders.
With this kind of acting pedigree In front of the camera, and the immense investment placed in production values (Game of Thrones is rumoured to cost a cool $6m an episode, while Mad Men paid $250,000 to show Don Draper listening to The Beatles), it isn’t always easy to look past the glitz at the genius that lurks beneath. For it is in the shadows of the writers room, between dozens of coffee cups and battered blackboards, that the magic truly happens. They might not receive the red carpet attention or pages of breathless tabloid prose, but the creators, writers, and showrunners – the brains behind the best television – are the real stars.
While the brilliant Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul deserved every award going, their dark puppet-master, Vince Gilligan, deserved more than a tip of Heisenberg’s hat for his unflinching commitment to creating an arresting 50 hour epic. Matthew Weiner brought a studied, novelistic brilliance to both The Sopranos and Mad Men; George RR Martin and his partners in brutal fantasy crime have created a world every bit as real as our own; and the influence of Dan Harmon on the madcap brilliance of Sony TV’s Community was recognized by the fact that his return to writing duties on this Thursday’s Season 5 premiere has been entitled the ‘Re-Pilot’ – the captain’s back in charge and the comedy is set to soar once more.
These are the geniuses who turn rainy nights sat on the sofa into the highlights of every week. Here’s our tribute to the often under appreciated…
David Benioff and Dan Weiss : Game of Thrones (2011)
Putting the spotlight on terrifying flame-spitting dragons, unforgettable cinematic scale battles, impressive visual effects and breath-taking landscapes, the writers of the epic fantasy drama, Game of Thrones, certainly know how to keep their 20 million fans hooked season after season. When David Benioff and Dan Weiss met, about 17 years ago, they were both studying Creative Writing at Trinity College in Dublin and that does not come as a shock. Who else could transfer George R. R. Martin’s work into mind-blowing images better than a wildering imagination-full pair of minds? Compelled by mythical stories and influenced by Anglo-Irish authors such as Beckett or James Joyce, Benioff and Weiss already knew they would be better off writing Fantasy; so when they were asked to bring the books to life, they of course accepted – and they weren’t wrong as Game of Thrones now proves to be the most widely watched series of all time.
Vince Gilligan : Breaking Bad (2008)
Breaking Bad has swept millions of fans off their feet and has left its public in deep sorrow after the Season Finale. From the beginning to the end of the series, Vince Gilligan has shown undeniable great talent in directing the degrading story of a chemistry teacher, Walter White, embarking himself in a career of drugs and crime after being diagnosed with stage 3 cancer and given only 2 years to live. Winning the director’s guild Award for the season Finale, Vince Gilligan has become one of the most renowned and influential series’ directors of all time. Gilligan also possesses the ability to capture themes such Sci-Fi, with The XFiles, being one of his milestone productions!
Dan Harmon : Community (2009)
Dan Harmon’s 5th Season of Community is coming back to our screens on Sony Entertainment Television! After a rumoured dispute with leading actor Chevy Chase, Dan Harmon had left the cast in 2013 and was replaced by another show-runner. Even though the media, the cast and the crew agreed he was difficult to work with at times, his absence was even harder to cope with. Harmon’s hard work, talent and dedication for the show were what made the difference. After all, we do say that ‘Madness is Genius’. All his sleepless nights, working on the evolution of the Greendale Community College students, paid off when he won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in 2012- and he is now coming back for more!
Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat : Sherlock (2010)
Set in 21st century London, Sherlock and Watson strike back for more adventures. Wandering in the dark streets of the capital, the two main protagonists use nowadays’ technologies such as mobile phones and GPS to track down the bad guys. After numerous adaptations of Conan Doyle’s stories, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat still manage to make a remarkable use of their imagination to make this show stand out of the competition. The writers’ admiration and influences of the Victorian literature is highly demonstrated throughout the striking similarities between Sherlock and time-travelling favourite Doctor Who.
Aaron Sorkin : The Newsroom (2012)
Whilst working on the set of The Social Network, a film for which he earned 8 nominations and a best screenplay award, Aaron Sorkin was already thinking of his return to television. He came up with the idea to create an American political drama series and that did not come as a surprise to fans…. Similar to his previous work on The West Wing, The Newsroom also reflects Sorkin’s liberal political view in a story of government, power and corruption within the media industry. While we might view Sorkin’s style and themes as repetitive, his indisputable talent and sarcastic way of portraying society will always leave its audiences in awe.
Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan : Modern Family (2011)
Modern Family is one of today’s highest viewed American sitcoms. Narrating the daily way-of-life of an atypical family, Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan base their various plots on the happenings of their own family lives. Introducing a variety of hilariously contrasting characters while using mockumentary footage of them revealing their secrets in a face-to-face unilateral conversation with the camera, the show’s writers know exactly how to make their audiences fall off their chairs with laughter. Comedy sitcom series actually seem to be Levitan and Lloyd’s landmark, highlighted in their previous works on TV shows Wings, Frasier and the briefly-screened Back To You. Side note: Christopher Lloyd in NOT the Christopher Lloyd that plays Doc Emmett Brown in Back to the Future!
Paul Abbott : Shameless (2011)
Paul Abbott has not always had an easy life. Seventh out of eight children, his parents both abandoned him when he was 11 and he had to be brought up by his 16 year old, pregnant sister. Raped and suicidal, Abbott found an escape in writing, which, further on, led him to become one of the most successful television writers in Britain, mostly renowned for his work for Coronation Street and Shameless. Introducing us to the largely dysfunctional Gallagher family, Shameless seems to be, even though denied by Abbott, somewhat autobiographical.
Nic Pizzolatto : True Detective (2014)
In this sensational thriller, Nic Pizzolato perfectly develops an enthralling plot that keeps audiences at the edge of their seats. True Detective follows two Lousianna State Police detectives in their 17 year-long hunt for a killer. Nic Pizzalato’s past experience as a University teacher of fiction and literature, along with his large repertoire of self-written thrillers and fiction short stories could already foretell the success of his televised show. In the month since True Detective premiered in America, Pizzolatto has been compared to three Davids (Simon, Milch and Chase – the men behind The Wire, Deadwood and The Sopranos) and has just signed a two-year deal with HBO that will allow him to develop a second series.
Beau Willimon : House of Cards (2013)
In this modern day analysis of power struggles and corruption in the U.S. Senate house, Beau Willimon actually showcases his early days in politics. In his early 20s, he became one of the many young people to devote themselves to the Vermont Government, supporting Howard Dean in his 2004 presidential campaign. Through Howard Dean’s defeat, Beau witnessed the negative implications of idealism and found a mysterious inspiration which led him to transform these real-life scenarios into an Award-winning series.
Matthew Weiner : Mad Men (2007)
A black-suited male silhouette enters his office, places his suitcase on the floor, and watches as his furniture disintegrate. He continues walking before falling off a skyscraper. In his descent, he freefalls past images of seductive women, alcohol and his other occupations. In this opening credit of Mad Men, the animation reveals encrypted clues as to what the show is all about. Portraying a society of yester-year, through events and goings-on in an advertising firm, Matthew Weiner recounts the story of Don Draper, a creative director working for the Sterling Cooper Advertising agency. Matthew’s work is observed to be consistent to his use of classical settings, which are also recurrent in his previous show The Sopranos.
Community Season 5 premieres exclusively on Sony Entertainment Television (Sky 157, Virgin 193, BT 454, Talk Talk 454) this Thursday 10th April, with a double bill from 10pm.