Showrunner Rules from Jeffrey Lieber: Numbers 1-10

February 7th, 2013 by

Jeff Lieber is a screenwriter and TV writer. His movie credits include Tangled and Tuck Everlasting, and he is currently an executive producer of the USA Network series “Necessary Roughness.” Oh, yeah… he is also one of the creators of a little TV series called “Lost.” [You can read more about all that here, but as he says, “It’s complicated”].

Through the magic of social media, Jeff and I intersected about… well, allow me to let Jeff explain:

In 2009 I was sitting in an editing room with fellow executive producer/showrunner/guru Steve Maeda (@stevemaeda) and co-producer/get-it-all-done/genius Kristieanne Reed (@kristieannereed). We three were staring at a cut of this show I created called Miami Medical (which, when it started, was neither set in Miami nor exactly medical, but… that’s another story). Anyway, the cut was two minutes short and we didn’t have the budget to shoot a new scene, so… we were stuck. That is, until someone noted: we do have that scene with the doctors in surgery… and they have masks on… and you can’t see their mouths… which means, well, we could really have them say ANYTHING… right?

Brains churned… I started jotting dialogue… and within an hour we’d flipped shots and blown up shots and stitched together enough footage to close the time gap while also fixing a huge story hole.

Then, on the way back to the “room” Steve and I were beating ourselves for having created the timing problem/story hole in the first place when one of us said something like…

“All scripts are essentially math. Brilliant scripts are string theory.”

I wrote that down and years later (meaning a few weeks ago) it became the first of the showrunner rules that I’ve been tweeting (@JeffLieber).

All the rules are essentially reminders to myself, gleaned from experience and the advice of others and I send them out into the tube-o-sphere as a thank you to the universe for giving me the chance/good fortune and dumb fucking luck to do something I truly and utterly and completely love doing.

The first 100 Showrunner Rules will be posted here — 10 a day — while 101 and beyond will show up first on my twitter feed and then, at the end of each week… this page will be updated with whatever is new.

Thanks ever so much for Scott Myers for stepping in to host this page.

Without further ado, here are Showrunner Rules from Jeffrey Lieber, Numbers 1-10:

Showruner Rule #1: All scripts are essentially math. Bad scripts are algebra. GREAT scripts are string theory.

Showrunner Rule #2: Black out the character names on a script. If after you can’t IMMEDIATELY identify your characters voices, ya fucked up.

Showrunner Rule #3: I’ll take a great person over a great writer any day. I can fix writing, but I can’t get back time an asshole wastes.

Showrunner Rule #4: No matter how many times you tell yourself, you can “get that scene shot in an hour-and-a-half”… it’ll take two hours.

Showrunner Rule #5: The SHOCKER on page 45, MUST be set up on pgs 9&26. Cause any moron can write, “Only now do we realize she’s an alien!”

Showrunner Rule #6: Writers waste early time coming up with GREAT dialogue. Dialogue’s for later. What’s paramount now: what HAPPENS next.

Showrunner Rule #7: With the notable exception of the stealth dickwad a staff is only as good as you let them be. After all, you hired them.

Showrunner Rule #8 (that I failed): If network DEMANDS you cast Tara Reid circa 1995 as “hot, young” lead, say NO… even if they then fire you.

Showrunner Rule #9: Rather then interrupt writer’s pitch, write questions anywhere close. Like… say… the window!

Showrunner MATH Rule #10: S*2/D less than 12. AKA number of scripted scenes * 2 hrs (average length per scene)/# of shoot days MUST be less than 12. Learn it.

Terrific, right? Funny, yet informative. And lots of folks in the Twitterverse have responded to Jeff’s tweets including my cohort in cinematic crime the @BittrScrptReadr.

As Jeff said, each day over the next few weeks, I will post 10 more Showrunner Rules. I will host them permanently here. And then as Jeff summons up new showrunner wisdom, I will feature them here on GITS and add them to the archived list.

So this is for you, TV writers!

I asked Jeff for a bio. Here it is:

One day in 1986, after blowing up a glass beaker in a lab in high school, Jeffrey Lieber’s science teacher, Dr. Nagoi, turned to him and said, “Jeffrey… you be an actor… you be a writer… maybe have a family… but please, dear God, don’t be a chemist.” And it was those words that launched a journey that has ended up with Mr. Lieber becoming a screenwriter, showrunner, blogger, father and husband (Credits? Go here). Every day, while pursuing his passions, Mr. Lieber takes a moment to stop and thank Dr. Nagoi for his sage advice.

Thanks, Jeff. Best of luck on the front lines of running a TV series and all your creative endeavors!

5 thoughts on “Showrunner Rules from Jeffrey Lieber: Numbers 1-10

  1. David Joyner says:

    Thanks for these!

    Regarding bad scripts are high-school algebra. great scripts are string theory: My interpretation:
    The bad stories tend to be straight-forward, easy, obvious plots. The great stories tend to have more involved, innovative, and deeper plots.

    Nice rule. BTW, “Tuck Everlasting” (2002) is one of my wife’s favorite films.

  2. […] Scott Myers hosts a series of Rules for Showrunners as outlined by Jeffrey Lieber, showrunner for Lost. Here, Jeffrey explains how they came up with the idea. We three were staring at a cut of this show I created called Miami Medical (which, when it started, … […]

  3. Debbie Moon says:

    Been following the later rules on Twitter: thanks for a chance to catch up with the early ones!

  4. GITSfan says:

    Wow, those are some delicious rules. I can’t wait for #11 and beyond. Early favorites, #1 and #6. Thank you, Jeff and Scott!

  5. Erica R Maier says:

    This is awesome!! I look forward to more!

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