Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally


Posted by Neal on January 27, 2010

I’m looking forward to watching tomorrow’s episode of Fringe. I’m particularly enjoying the story arc about the alternate universe where onion rings refers to deep-fried narrow slices of potato, and French fries to breaded and fried circular slices of onion.

Oh, wait, I’m thinking about Frings.

So anyway, I’m eager to watch Fringe tomorrow because it’s the second episode that my brother Glen and his writing partner Robert Chiappetta wrote. Actually, I’ve learned from Glen that all the screenwriters contribute to a greater or lesser degree to each script, but individual writers (or writing teams, like Glen and Robert) will volunteer to draft particular episodes discussed in the planning sessions. Afterwards, the script is subject to revision by a number of people, including in particular someone known as the showrunner.

“I’ve never seen showrunner on the credits,” I said when he told me about the position.

“That’s right,” Glen said. It’s not a formal title. It’s usually an executive producer, but which person among the producers and executive producers and co-executive producers dons the mantle of showrunner varies from show to show.

Naturally, the first thing I wanted to do after learning about this new word was to see if the by-now-all-too-familiar reanalysis-plus-backformation process had created showrun as a new verb. Answer: Yes, it has! For example, a headline from Variety from July 6, 2009 says

Josh Bycel to help showrun ‘Scrubs’

The story’s lead backs up Glen’s explanation: “Scribe Josh Bycel will help perform surgery on ABC’s “Scrubs,” signing on as the show’s new executive producer.” Not only has showrun come into being as a verb via backformation, it has even progressed far enough to re-open the direct-object slot that show once filled, allowing it to be filled with the name of a particular show. Furthermore, we get a bonus with this backformation, occurring as it does with an irregular verb: We can also ask if we get the irregular past tense showran. Again, we do. This is from a forum thread discussing The Simpsons:

Other than the two episodes he showran, how much influence did David Mirkin have on the show in season 7?

One of these days, I’m also going to look into the history of mythology with respect to shows like this. From the preliminary poking around I’ve done so far, I’d say the first show to have mythology used this way was The X-Files, but I’d be happy to hear antedatings from TV fans. Twin Peaks seems like the kind of show whose fans would talk about its mythology, but I don’t recall hearing anyone do it, although I certainly find plenty of relatively recently written material that does.

2 Responses to “Showrunners”

  1. Stan said

    Although I’m not a TV fan, I was a Twin Peaks fan, and I suppose I remain one. At university my friends and I eagerly (and pretentiously) discussed its mythology. We may even have used the word mythos without really knowing what it meant. Such discussions were inevitable, given the show’s emphasis on mystery and symbolism.

    I imagine that The Prisoner was quite mythopoeic, but I came to it late — only a few years ago — so I really couldn’t say.

  2. […] is revealed over the course of many episodes for a TV show that has long-running story arcs. (I mentioned wanting to look into it a couple of posts back.) Not only has mythology developed a specialized […]

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