Moffat – Showrunner Or What?

As already reported here, this August Steven Moffat will be at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival to give a masterclass to budding TV types. So far so great but it does lead me to ask: What is Steven Moffat’s actual job?

Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat. Or is he?According to the Television Festival’s own website its “new Doctor Who showrunner, Steven Moffat” but according to the BBC’s Head of Series and Serials, Kate Harwood, the BBC doesn’t employ them for financial reasons. Apparently the BBC does have ‘lead writers’ but can’t afford to pay someone to assume the responsibility of showrunner.

And it is a serious responsibility. To be a showrunner is to take full personal responsibility for the success or failure of a series. It means being responsible for the jobs of dozens, perhaps hundreds of people. A flagship series like Doctor Who has a huge budget, a massive potential to generate revenue for the BBC and a small army of personnel working on it. If Doctor Who fails it could mean job losses, embarrassment and financial loss for the BBC, a blow to the Welsh economy and an army of enraged fans swearing vengeance on the guilty party.

If Doctor Who Confidential is to believed then Steven Moffat doesn’t just write half the episodes himself. He also commissions the other writers and ties the episodes together in the larger story arch. He has final say on the look of new monsters and special effects. He has a major say in casting. As a ‘face’ of the series he is second only to Matt Smith.

He’s a brave man to take all this on and he clearly loves the job but maybe the BBC should stop pretending about the job title. He is more than just the ‘lead writer’. Like Russell T Davies before him he is running the show.

Perhaps it’s also time that the fans acknowledge how lucky we’ve been. Both Moffat and Davis do have their faults but they are both talented and savvy writers. Both are dedicated long time fans. Both know how to bring out the best in other writers. Both know how to talk to the suits at broadcasting house.

How long will we continue to be so lucky? How many others are there who could do the job? Will Moffat be as successful in finding and positioning his potential successor as Davis apparently was? One gets the feeling that no-one at the BBC has really thought this through. With the possible exception of Moffat himself. After all, everyone agrees he’s a master of plot.


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