Bones creator Hart Hanson is a man of many talents and he’s the key to the hit show’s long running success.
Hart recently took time out of his busy schedule to contribute to Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show. Showrunners is the first ever feature length documentary to explore the fascinating world of US television showrunners and the creative forces around them.
We caught up with Hart to talk about the documentary, find out the secret to Bones’ longevity and discuss what it’s really like to be a showrunner.
Hi Hart. How are you doing today? Where does this email Q&A find you?
I am having a pretty good day, thanks Pip. This email finds me in my office on the Fox lot. I’m having a cup of tea and answering your questions after looking at a cut of Episode 9 of “Backstrom” and before getting studio notes on the script for Episode 11 and a phone call with Rainn Wilson to explain to him why he has to work so many hours on our season finale after I quasi-promised him a day off.
You feature in new documentary Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show. Tell us what it’s all about?
The documentarians interview a whole whack of showrunners on the minutiae of running a tv show. I wouldn’t say I “feature” in it because there are tons of us being followed around by a camera crew and being interviewed. As a showrunner myself I found it absolutely fascinating to watch others talk about the job.
What did you decide to take part in the documentary?
I don’t know. I suspect that my assistant accepted on my behalf and then on the day when the film-makers showed up – Des Doyle and Ryan Patrick McGuffey – I meant to tell them I really didn’t have time. But they are Irish and very charming and they were sincere and focused and determined to make their film so I had to see it through. I also realized as they were asking me questions that I would love to hear other showrunners answer so in the end it was extremely self-serving. I might have refused to take part if I’d known they were going to put me on the poster.
You are the showrunner for Bones. What exactly does that entail?
Currently it entails me making fun of the decisions my pal Stephen Nathan is making as he takes the reins for the tenth season of Bones because my main energies are going into a new Fox series called “Backstrom” which is scheduled for February 2015. I would say I advise and consent on “Bones” in a situation where Stephen doesn’t really need my advice and definitely does not need my consent. Showrunning “Backstrom” is a whole different kettle of fish – in my opinion getting a network series up and running in the first season is the hardest task for a showrunner. You are defining the parameters and tone of a series while gaining the trust of a new cast and crew and fighting self-doubt every step of the way.
Bones is still going strong after a decade. What would you say is the secret to the show’s continued success?
I think “Bones” was designed for longevity – a very solid story engine in both plot and character. Lots of murders solved by two characters who have radically different views of the world. Also, the support of a studio – in my case Dana Walden and Gary Newman at 20th Century Fox. But the true secret to continued success resides in the cast: you need two leads like Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz who keep finding ways to bounce off each other, who are fun to watch, and have the type of charisma that carries through 22 episodes a year for ten years. It’s the casting. Always the casting.
What’s the biggest challenge of being a showrunner?
I think it’s being able to keep focus despite all the noise and input from a thousand different sources. Everybody has an idea of what your show should be – audience, cast, studio, network, writers, directors, agents, family. It’s a nightmare of volume. Being able to discern the good advice from the bad while keeping a hold on an idea is very tough. The hours are tough too. Also, my commute is hell. Also everybody is slightly annoyed at me all the time. Now I’m just complaining.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about being a showrunner?
The most shocking thing I learned from the movie is that every single showrunner decorates his or her office better than I do. I really have to up my game in that regard especially since it’s possible that I actually have the nicest office on the Fox lot.
Tell us why you decided to become a showrunner?
I didn’t decide to become a showrunner. I wanted to be a television writer and it simply turned out that in order to do that I had to write pilots of my own and then the next thing you know I had the big office and the title. I feel like I stuck my toe in the River of Show Business and ended up being swept over Niagara Falls.
What advice would give to people who want to become a showrunner?
My advice would be to take the opportunity to be second-in-command on a show and watch the showrunner very closely and make sure you want the job. Being a writer and being a showrunner are not congruent skills. Also get some exercise so you don’t develop a hunch.
Why should people check out Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show?
I think the film-makers have done a very good job of pulling back the curtain on how a television show is actually made. It could change the way you watch TV.
Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show will be available to buy at showrunnersthemovie.com from Oct 31st and will be available on iTunes this November.