Promise of Brand Pizzolatto

Nic Pizzolatto is the writer and creator of the HBO crime drama series True Detective based down South in Louisiana. Alexander Slotnick’s piece in The Last Magazine, titled with the name of the showrunner-auteur himself, showcases to the prospective audience why the brand Pizzolatto of the new, around-the-corner show will be superior. “For him, the art of telling stories is a personal affair,” Slotnick writes. Pizzolatto is the auteur, because the idea for True Detective came to him in the shape of a thick novel. Moreover, he has already tasted success as an author, which lends credibility to the originality of creative vision and legitimacy to the television he is set to produce.

Newman and Levine state that, “authorship functions as a branding to attract a desirable upscale audience to programming constructed as authentically artistic” (42). Pizzolatto, who has written a successful debut novel, comes across precisely as an artist who cares about his personal craft. Slotnick elaborates upon Pizzolatto’s professorial track, his writing and a variety of awards he has received for it including the French Academy’s award for Best First Novel, Foreign. For a first time showrunner, his accolades serve as a “guarantee of his art”.

The fact that Pizzolatto has proved himself as a novelist, sets up his television production as high art and ‘quality television’. “Television,” he tells Slotnick, “is the writer’s medium.” Slotnick highlights Pizzolatto’s locally grounded but globally inspired storytelling by elaborating on his ‘cosmopolitan’ taste in literature, in which his personal favorites range from classic Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Fyodor Dostoevsky, as well as his familiarity and expertise in the Southern literary canon. As Newman and Levine say, “You are what you like: ‘taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier” (7). Pizzolatto’s combination of appreciating and enjoying ‘formidable,’ classic literature from home as well as around the world marks his aesthetic preferences as one of superior quality and lends legitimacy to his forthcoming show.

Auterism differs from impersonal industrial culture production in that it suggests the personal and deliberately crafted expressions of an individual who is not limited by commercial constraits (Newman and Levine 48). This trope is realized in the article when Slotnick suggests that the idea of the show’s setting in the South comes straight from Pizzolatto’s childhood and upbringing in the deep South and thus makes it abundantly clear to the readers that this auteur’s work will be a product of personal experience. On his formative years in the South, Pizzolatto said, “They are my most intense memories. They metaphysically haunt me” (Slotnick). He goes on to discuss his remembrances of the South, which suggests a sense of personal stake and authenticity of Pizzolatto’s show. According to Newman and Levine, the connections between experience and expression guarantee the artistry of individualized production (49). Indeed, Slotnick illustrates this promise when he says, “His noir will disarm you, then sweep you off your feet. And it will always bring you home – to Pizzolatto’s home, at least, the South”. There is a clear sense from the article that Nic Pizzolatto holds the promise of a visionary, a man who wants to make his stories a visual reality through collaboration. His unique vision and personality in story-telling seem to have the auteuristic elements for becoming a brand.

Slotnick, Alexander. “Nic Pizzolatto.” The Last Magazine. N.p., 8 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 Apr. 2014. <>.


“The Dark Thrills of ‘True Detective’” and A Killer Legitimization Via Auteur

“Just a few years ago, Pizzolatto — an intense, hyperverbal dude with a serious Faulkner jones — was in a very different place. Before he became the creator and showrunner of True Detective…Pizzolatto was the author of a little-read novel, Galveston…and had a tenure-track job teaching literature and creative writing at tiny DePauw University, in Greencastle, Indiana” (“The Dark Thrills of ‘True Detective’”). 

 Aside from blatantly stating that producer/professor Nic Pizzolatto is the “creator and showrunner” of the new HBO series, True Detective, Jonathan Ringen’s article frames him as the auteur of the show itself by highlighting aspects of him as they relate to those of the characters and story. For example, Ringen draws parallels between the setting of the show, various scenes and even character perspective as specifically relevant to the life of Pizzolatto. He observes that, “Pizzolatto set his tale in a place he knows well: the swampy, oil-refinery-studded coast of Louisiana, where he grew up in a deeply Catholic family, obsessed with comic books and The Twilight Zone” (Ringen). Not only does he explicitly identify the physical location that Pizzolatto and True Detective share, but also brings to attention sources of conflict and content within the narrative as they ground themselves in Pizzolatto’s childhood. The inclusion of the “deeply Catholic family” and his obsession of “The Twilight Zone” allow the reader of the article and viewer of the show to draw their own similarities between the two, remembering that characters of True Detective such as Rustin Cohle are at extreme odds with the devout religious practices of the region. Drawing comparisons between the life of Pizzolatto and his show indicate Ringen’s belief in his auteurship as well as a form of legitimization.

 This legitimization of television, as discussed by Michael S. Newman and Elena Levin’s chapter on “The Showrunner asAuteur,” occurs through the alignment between the personal experience of the showrunner and the show itself. Making these connections filters the “fictionalized narrative” of the show and is able to “further guarantee the artistry of individual production and downplay the collaborative nature of industrial media-making” (Newman & Levine). As stated before and again in this quote, the relationship between the personal experiences of the showrunner and the content of the television show not only claims the isolated auteurship of that showrunner, but also legitimizes the show in that it is considered unique to the artist rather than industrialized. By primarily focusing his article around Pizzolatto’s background, Ringen makes the argument for True Detective’s legitimacy through the showrunner’s auteurship and personal relationship with its content.

 To further observe this argument for auteurship and legitimization through the individualized differentiation provided by the show’s creator, the remainder of Ringen’s article on Pizzolatto’s creation of True Detective practically speaks for itself. He concludes the piece by emphasizing that both Season One and Season Two are entirely written by Pizzolatto because he has become so invested in his work that he cannot possibly see how others might contribute (Ringen). This not only suggests that the work is entirely his own rather than the product of a team, but also that the work itself is so genius that multiple artistic contributions might actually weaken the product. As an article entitled “The Dark Thrills,” it is clear that Ringen’s favorable review of the show is, at its core, a legitimization of the show through the attribution of its successful qualities to the unique and isolated artistry of its showrunner and auteur, Nic Pizzolato. In light of this argument, the viewer is more likely to respect the show as a piece of art that is separate from and even superior to other, mainstream television, not to mention the validity of television as an art form itself.

“The Dark Thrills of ‘True Detective’” by Jonathan Ringen (Rolling Stone)

To be or not to be the singular author

The article I have linked provides an especially important take on authorship in television because it allows the reader to simultaneously compare the opinions and practices of three of TV’s most celebrated and successful show-runners: Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad, Matthew Weiner of Mad Men and David Milch of Deadwood. While the three writers all hold the same title, command the same amount of respect in the writers room and share many of the same ideas about how television should be written and produced, it is apparent from this interview that they each have their own unique style and approach to creating the hour long cable TV drama. Each writer has complete control over their own writer’s room with the same goal in mind, yet who they go about achieving that goal is what sets one show apart from the other and what suggests that the idea of the show-runner as the singular auteur may not apply to every show. If we consider television to be a form of art, then writers are the artists. And with every artist comes a different creative process. While indeed, show-runners are the kings, the “Creative Titans” of the writer’s room, every show-runner is different. The amount of control a show-runner implements over their writers varies from show to show. In cases such as Matthew Weiner who developed the idea of Mad Men for over six years before the show got picked up, nearly every word of every episode is credited to him because of his extensive rewriting of his writers work. Weiner works collaboratively in the writer’s room to “generate story,” but claims to do all, or at least nearly all of the actual writing by himself. Even when his writers work independently to create their own storylines, Weiner rewrites it and slaps his name on it, something which neither of the other interviewed writers admit to doing. Weiner attributes this policy to ego, saying. “I cant stomach the idea of someone not knowing I was involved in [writing an episode].” Weiner in particular is a show-runner who particularly values the idea of show runner as auteur and works hard to maintain that image and that standard on his show. This may seem arrogant and self serving to you are I, but to his peers in the industry, Gilligan and Milch, it is an admirable quality in a show-runner. While Milch has the same level of authority over his writers being the show-runner, it is his choice not to flex that authority. Milch sees more value in the collaborative efforts of a writer’s room and allow the stories to flow more naturally from the collective minds of the writers. He describes his writing process as “knocking around ideas” and then “giving them out haphazardly” making for a less cognitive approach over which he has less control than Weiner. While he will make changes to a script when changes are necessary, he wont put his name on it like Weiner does, even when making extensive changes. More importantly, he wont take somebody’s name off of a scrip that he made changes to, which is something Weiner does if he changes more than 80% of the writing. This is a creative choice for him. While he has the power (and sometimes the urge) to stamp his name on everything that the show produces or change it to make it his own, he allows for more collaboration for the good of the show.

Martin, Brett. “The Men Behind the Curtain: A GQ TV Roundtable.” GQ. June 2012. Accessed Online. 20 April 2014. .

Management and Masculinity

David Milch, the writer and showrunner for the show Deadwood epitomizes the auteur-showrunner in the modern age of experimental, narrative, television drama.

This GQ article singles out Milch as one of the greatest “Titans in auteur television,” and interviews him alongside other current and well known auteur showrunners Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) and Matthew Weiner (Mad Men).

The article says of these showrunners, “in TV, as nowhere else, the writer is king—none more so than those emperors of the air that control every aspect of an ambitious, ongoing cable drama.”  Immediately, the narrative is set, these writers are masculine and inhabit revered positions of power and leadership. The fact that David Milch is being interviewed about his identify as an auteur for GQ speaks volumes about the masculine sense of control and ownership implicit in this emerging TV definition of the showrunner. The article cites Milch’s genre of work as “ambitious” and “deep,”suggesting a new genre of television, heralded in by creative, masculine showrunners like Milch. But why is his work ambitious?

Elana Levine and  Michael Newman describe the roots and impacts of the rise of what is being called “Quality TV.” Showrunners like Milch serve as perfect examples of this new effort in ambitious show sophistication.  Television shows today are pressured to become sophisticated because television historically has found itself in a hierarchy far below other forms of “high art.” Through attempting to create “quality” television, as GQ believes Milch’s shows represent, particular people and shows can achieve a new status as a legitimate art form (Levine and Newman, 58). But in order to be viewed with the same cultural and class value as other forms of fine art, TV programs which seek the “quality” label must have a sense of continuity and distinct authorship, akin to that of a novelist or film director (Levine and Newman, 40). That author governs in masculine ways which capture both power and intelligence. An auteur showrunner must be seen as both, “an effective boss and an inspired genius” (Levine and Newman, 40). This sense of managerial control and conceptual influence is clearly marked by masculinity.

David Milch, show runner,exercising his masculine management on the Deadwood set

David Milch, show runner,exercising his masculine management on the Deadwood set

Like Milch, many showrunners are male. Their position as showrunner gives them a masculine sense of control over the decision making process in art form that has been devalued through being feminized. Television has been feminized, and consequently seen as less culturally significant throughout its history (Levine and Newman, 12). In some ways, the hyper-masculinity of the auteur figure compensates for the assumed femininity and cultural devaluing which have prevented television from entering into the ranks of high art

In addition to a sense of masculinity, an auteur showrunner persona can lend a tone of distinctiveness to the show. It benefits showrunners to brand themselves as distinct because their personality traits add another dimension to the culture around the show. Particularly when showrunners like Milch experiment with shows which air on non-traditional platforms like HBO, it is too their benefit to create brands which mesh well with, “new experiments in TV storytelling and promotion”(Newman and Levine, 12). Milch has mastered the unique persona of an auteur; the GQ article describes him as having “the baroque gnomic gravity of an archdruid.” Throughout his interview with GQ, Milch proceeded to act in quirky yet didactic ways, including buying lottery tickets for all of the interview guests to prove a point about symbolic value.  Showrunner actions, whether on social media, in publicity conversations, or in the studio, contribute to the overall brand of the showrunner’s identity and the brand of the show. Distinctive showrunner identity makes  a television program seem “quality” because it aligns television with the culture of auteurship which is already strong within the world of film which has historically held a higher status as an artistic medium (Levine and Newman,58).  Powerful showrunner identity also makes a show seem more complex and fluid because the show is literally being driven by an actual person with a captivating personality which exists outside of the show, yet still impacts the content. This strong auteur personality adds to the texture and allure of the show with, say, “archdruid”-like behavior.

Milch, like many other showrunners, recognizes the immense collaboration which goes into television production, but he still is pulled toward the ego-driven aspects of autership. He explained in his interview that if he were given all the time in the world to produce a show,  his first inclination would be to write the entire show himself, “which is to say that in my vanity and egoism, I would think that (writing the show myself) would be the way to proceed.” It is attractive, even for the showrunners themselves to buy into the idea of auteurism the way the public does.  While leadership and creative vision are essential to sustaining a strong narrative, the labor and bodies behind television production get left behind when we talk about the show exclusively as the art of a single showrunner. Not all TV experiences the showrunner auteur effect; Newman and Levine assert that this phenomenon is most often found in long, serialized narrative shows. Interviews like the one in GQ which feature three male auteur showrunners of “quality” TV dramas, universalize the experience of showrunners by leaving out the voices which talk about less dramatic, less serialized, and devalued TV shows. This is problematic because the structures of masculinity which, as Newman and Levine noted, prevented television from being seen as legitimate art, are part of the ethos which “quality” auteur shows are built upon.  Through hypervaluing masculinity, auteur-style television erases more feminized aspects of the television process such as the collaborative work that goes into making the show and the cultural role of TV shows as a medium for the masses, not just a high class bracket of HBO subscribers.



Levine, Elana, and Newman Michael Z. “The Showrunner as Auteur.” Legitimating Television: Media Convergence and Cultural Status. New York: Routledge, 2012. 38-58. Print.

Martin, Brett. “The Men Behind the Curtain: A GQ TV Roundtable.” GQ. June 2012. Accessed Online. 20 April 2014. .

Taste Classifies

The most blatant signal of legitimization within my article is fact that the interview is posted and done by the Writers Guild of America; aligning True Detective as a show that is trying to legitimize the art form of television while simultaneously being one.  Newman and Levine say: “…legitimation works in part by aligning television with that which has already been legitimated and aestheticized” (5).  Just by virtue of having an association that recognizes the craft of screen writing is an attempt to move television to a higher-class.  It is seemingly like the Grammys; we have people of higher cultural capitol come together to tell us who, if we seek similar levels of cultural capital, to pay attention to.  Even the introduction to Pizzolatto’s interview aligns him with a higher class artists, like Brad Pitt and James Francom who the audience knows has an artistic process and creates with intention.  Check it out: “Pizzolatto makes use of his outsider’s perspective to bring a fresh depth to HBO’s new hit series True Detective”.

Having Pizzolatto’s interview on this site it also places him in the showruner-auteur category.  He credited with being the creator and showrunner to True Detective, giving him the utmost authorship to achieve auteur statues.  Placing Pizzolatto as a mark of cultural capital through his authorship Pizzolatto successfully, “functions as a commercial strategy of product differentiation and as a marker of quality”(42).  This is furthered by the content of his interview.  He doesn’t just talk about his work, but talks about its intentionally, its depth, meaning, and relation to life at large:

“Your own personality and the world are constantly trying to cripple you in a thousand different ways and you just have to watch out for it, and the best way to do that is to stay centered in what your real aims are.”  said Pizzolatto.  Here he is talking about screen writing and how not getting caught in the idea “…that the materialism will corrupt your artistic sense”.  Not only does his speech indicate his auteur but he is separating himself from “materialism” which also reads: from any other show that isn’t considered artistic.

This directly ties into another one of Newman and Levine’s points: “Through the identification of the author/artist personae, popular art forms become more amenable to intellectualization, a key strategy of cultural legitimation” (9).  Not only is Pizzolatto identified as high class but he is identified as a novelist who became a screen writer (which is true).  Making this distinction, identifying that he was originally associated with a higher intellectualization than television by writing novels, places him at the forefront of legitimation.  This ultimately translates over to True Detective.  Newman and Levin state that “one of the central strategies employed in discourses of televisions’s legitimation is comparison with already legitimated art forms, such as literature and cinema”.  If Pizzolatto is credited with authorship of the text that is True Detective the comparison to legitimate art forms is fulfilled.  This doesn’t just illustrate televisions difference to high art from but rather the similarities.  This also allows the show, through cultural legitimation, to distinguish it self from other television, television that is considered materialistic and profit driven (think Gym, Tan, Laundry).  

With all of these points in mind, this particular interview supports just about everything Newman and Levine say.







Man + Writer + TV = Showrunner Auteur

In hot July, months before True Detective aired on HBO, True Detective‘s showrunner gave an interview with New Orleans’ Times-Picayune. The website, Uproxx, created a post about this interview. What made this news? What made Uproxx–a website whose tagline is “The Culture of What’s Buzzing”–consider this buzzworthy? What places this article within the “Culture of What’s Buzzing”? Lying within the Uproxx post’s title are the answers to the aforementioned questions.

The post’s title begins to unravel what makes this interview newsworthy: “HBO Let ‘True Detective’ Showrunner Nic Pizzolatto Write The Show All By Himself.” The title leads with HBO, a network that has been central to the narrative that television has become a legitimate art form. By drawing their reader in with HBO, a specific credibility is already bestowed upon the rest of the headline. The rest of the headline sums up the article’s hook: the showrunner of True Detective is worth knowing and he is worth knowing because HBO trusted him and gave him power.

The post’s title fits into the narrative that scholars, Michael Newman and Elana Levine, explore in their detailing of the evolution of television. Newman and Levine argue that the rhetoric used in claims to legitimize television as a medium have led to efforts to masculine-ize television, a medium that has long been viewed as a feminine medium (Newman and Levine 10). The headline enters this conversation when it states that HBO let Pizzolatto be the singular author of the show. The title’s phrasing suggest that Pizzolatto is simultaneously exceptional and powerful, traits that unfortunately have been socially constructed as masculine. The exceptional nature of Pizzolatto lies in an implied presumption that it is unusual for HBO to have showrunners be the sole writer of a television script. Yet 2011’s Enlightened, an HBO sitcom, also allowed the showrunner to be the show’s only writer. Masculine sensibilities can also be seen in the verb “Let,” because the verb implies that HBO has acquiesced power and given it to the showrunner. Essentially because Pizzolatto was able to gain power from HBO, he is able to map the network’s brand of quality onto his own show. In essence, HBO–a channel that has quality attached to it because of its masculine shows–has bestowed more power than average to a male showrunner.

Yet, Pizzolatto’s power as showrunner is a recent trend. Not him as an individual showrunner, but the entertainment industry’s focus on showrunners as news stories, as a position worthy of focus, and most importantly as true authors or “auteurs” of television shows is new (Newman and Levine 38). That one does not have to get to the actual post to realize that Uproxx is using rhetoric that promotes the idea that the showrunner is a television show’s auteur serves as evidence of the traction that has occurred in the use of this tactic to legitimize television as a medium. This post is not atypical or nonsensical. In the current cultural climate, “The Culture of What’s Buzzing” includes television. Through the legitimizing of television, writing a post that explains an upcoming television show’s staff writing structure is buzzworthy.

*With a face like this, of course HBO is going to let him write all of the episodes.*

The “Showrunner as Auteur:” MVP of Television


In their article “The Showrunner as Auteur,” Newman and Levine posit the existence and purpose of a showrunner as fostering creativity and being one (if not the only) creators of all aspects of a given TV show. In the case of Deadwood¸ David Milch would fit the bill of showrunner as auteur perfectly. Newman and Levine outline that in order to be a showrunner and an auteur, one must be considered a writer-producer, as well as one of the show’s creators (Newman/Levine). By their definition, the show’s creator is also responsible for the ongoing execution of the show. Additionally, the authors recognize an auteuristic shift that puts the story-telling of the show in the showrunner’s hands (Newman/Levine). This creates a scenario in which the show in question lends itself even more to the creativity of the showrunner. Newman and Levine argue that this lends itself to ultimately creating better television in their citing of John Thornton Caldwell “upscale fare was counter-programmed against more ordinary TV on the basis of its ‘boutique intentionality.’ Giving shows the sense of having been crafted with a ‘personal touch’ in contrast to more assembly-line fashion of the usual programming” (Newman/Levine 45). While Caldwell was writing of TV in the 1980’s, consider how Newman and Levine approach the shows Heroes and Deal or No Deal, the former is an upscale and sophisticated series with showrunner Tim Kring at the wheel, while the latter was more reminiscent of a cookie-cutter game show that appealed to the masses. The distinctive “personal touch” is what separates certain TV shows and demonstrates what Newman and Levine are arguing for, which is the recognition that shows created and developed by the showrunner as the auteur are distinguished from the shows that appeal to the masses.

More specifically, David Milch embodies this idea of the ‘showrunner as auteur.’ In an article posted by the New York Observer, it is acknowledged that the pilot “grew out of two years’ research into the history of the West in general and Deadwood specifically, gold mining, Indian wars, whorehouse and casino protocols, public-health records, politics in the Black Hills, criminality and extralegal justice, the Gilded Age, the bank panic of 1873, and biographies of historical figures” (Haber 2008). Quite a mouthful. This is research that Milch did on his own for the sake of creating as accurate of a show as possible. The creation of the show’s characters, its dialogue, everything, is being channeled through Milch onto the screen. This kind of dedication to the craft and the idea of pouring one’s heart and soul into the creation of a fictional world is exactly what Newman and Levine are referring to when they talk about the showrunner as auteur. The rise of this kind of individual in the world of TV will distinguish the shows they create. As Newman and Levine conclude their article “In convergence-era television, authorship is central not only to the textual appeals of Quality TV, but also to the culture of television appreciation and fandom in the niche audience segments to whom legitimated programs are addressed” (Newman/Levine 58). The showrunner as auteur becomes a celebrity beyond simply being the writer or producer or creator. He or she becomes the life and soul of that which is created.


EDIT: The article that I cited was also directly citing another article about David Milch. My apologies:

The Perks of Being An Auteur


Despite it’s humble beginnings, television has firmly established itself as a medium for quality entertainment and an avenue for academic study. The emergence of quality television throughout the late 20th century into the 21stcentury has provided television with ample means to prove it can be a significant representation of societal norms. From The Sopranos to True Detective, a level of “quality” television has emerged and it is largely due to the establishment of the “showrunner” or auteur. Nic Pizzolatto, the genius behind True Detective, is the writer, director and creator of the popular HBO show and is already working on the next installment of the anthology series.  In an article written by Adam Romano from The Daily Beast about Nic Pizzolatto and the reading in class by Newman and Levine, both parties argue that the role of the “showrunner” has the opportunity to give a series, and thus television, legitimacy.

In the article, Romano interviews Pizzolatto about his role as a “showrunner” and how he came about writing the hit HBO series True Detective. Pizzolatto explains how he,“was on set the entire time… worked closely with the actors. And what’s airing are the cuts [he is] very happy with,”(Romano). His work ethic is one of an auteur in that he is able to and wants to control all aspects of the shows production Romano asks questions that reveal Pizzolatto as the “showrunner” and emphasizes his important role in the show’s success. In a personal statement about “showrunners” and their significance Romano states, “not every narrative is created by committee,” indicating that in this case, Pizzolatto as a “showrunner” has done a good job of creating True Detective without the aid of multiple directors and writers (Romano).

            A “showrunner” can potentially provide a series with a celebrity figure status and thus give the show a legitimate entertainment value. Newman and Levine state, that, “People look to showrunners and say, that guy is that show,” implying a “showrunner” represents his or her show every single day and breath it’s themes and meanings. By having a person become a representation for the show, people can recognize a series through the “showrunner”, ultimately resulting in a greater audience and more legitimacy as a visual medium.  Not only does the “showrunner” indicate a known worth and understanding of what kind of a show a series could become, “The showrunner auteur functions as a commercial strategy of product differentiation and as a marker of quality,” meaning that the “showrunner” becomes a cultural symbol of the series he or she is representing (Newman and Levine, 42). In this way a “showrunner” becomes more than a creator and in fact represents the show’s televisual nature. In the 21st century, “ The creation of “showrunner” as an identity has made television’s participation in the discourse of the artist as celebrity more likely and more meaningful, as it isolates unique individuals for the public to appreciate,” (Newman and Levine, 56). As evident by these observations I, both readings indicate that an auteur or “showrunner” is much more than just a credit at the end of the show. These roles help establish a series as a legitimate show because they provide “quality” elements of television such as multiple camera perspectives, on location shooting and more importantly a public figure in which an audience can recognize.

            An advantage to a series having a “showrunner” is that there is a single way in which the show is produced, ultimately meaning a single coherent direction and artistic vision. In Romano’s article, Pizzolatto contemplates the ups and downs of being an auteur and how by being “showrunner” he risks not only his reputation but the shows as well. Pizzolatto says, “I made True Detective like it was going to be the only thing I ever made for television. So I put in everything and the kitchen sink, everything,” (Romano). This dedication to the show is indicated in both readings and again emphasizes the significant role and investment a “showrunner” has in his/her series.

            In the age of “quality” television, the role of the “showrunner” has aided in the legitimization of television because it relates shows with that of “high art practices”.  Auteurs are significant because they represent a series as a whole and not just episode.

Works Cited

 Romano, Andrew. “Inside the Obsessive, Strange Mind of True Detective’s Nic    Pizzolatto.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 4 Apr. 2014. Web. 21 Apr.           2014.


Blessed is David Milch, for he is the auteur and genius behind “Deadwood”

In an article in the New York Times, showrunner David Milch is seen as the creative genius behind HBO’s original series Deadwood.  He is the one that created everything about the show.  The article supports the argument set forth by Levine/Newman and begins by talking about Milch’s history in the television and film industry as well as his experience in past shows has helped him in creating the show Deadwood. Consistently throughout the article, when a character is referred to, such as Al Swearengen, he is refereed to as “Milch’s invention” (Singer).  Each and every character is a part of Milch’s brain and genius.  He created the characters, the show, everything.  When it comes to background information on characters, time period, everything historical about the show, there are hundreds of pages, single-spaced, that are dedicated to this (Singer).  As Levine/Newman says, “In scripted narrative genres, the showrunner is a ‘hyphenate’ writer-producer” (Levine/Newman 39).  This means that to be an auteur, one needs to be the creator of the show.  Milch is just this.  Singer says that when he writes a new scene, all of the writers and producers crowd around him while he is sitting on the floor, talking into a microphone connected to a computer.  He would also pay interns out of his own pocket just learn from him.  It is as if he is the sole creator and everyone wants to watch him while the genius unfolds.  Singer says that the only sounds that are heard in the room are Milch’s and the hum of the computer and monitors; otherwise, it is silent.  This is just another way in which Milch is promoted as the auteur. Another example of Milch being the auteur for the show is that his work expresses his own personal experience.  The show or piece of work is “crafted to their own concerns” within reason (Levine/Newman).  This goes on to say that it has to do with personal, autobiographical experiences.  When Milch was writing NYPD Blue, he was channeled the demons that were inside of him, such as drugs and alcohol, and used these personal experiences to his advantage to write this show.  This is the sign of an auteur, that he would use his own experiences to create the show. To be an auteur of a show, one would also need to be the face of the show.  When people think of Deadwood, they see David Milch, the creator, writer, and producer of the show.  The fact that the New York Times interviewed David Milch, as well as followed him around and understood the history of him is another reason why he is an auteur.  He has become just as famous as the series that he created.  The Levine/Newman article says, “the television creator’s role marks the convergence of the function of the author as a guarantee of art” (Levine/Newman 56).  This is saying that because of the creator, the show is guaranteed to be art.  The creator himself is the reason for the show automatically being considered to be art.  In the case of Milch, being interviewed and being the front face of the show explains why he is an auteur. As shown, to be an auteur, one relies on personal experience and response, being the sole creator, and being the face of the show, to really create a show of artistic genius.  In the case of David Milch, he refers to himself as the sole creator and he uses his personal experiences to help push the show into another realm.  To celebrate his auteurness is to celebrate his genius, and in this case, David Milch just might have it.

Is good television still television?


Inside the Obsessive, Strange Mind of True Detective’s Nic Pizzolatto by Andrew Romano

This interview with Nic Pizzolatto reads like a talk with a movie director. It begins by calling attention to the format of True Detective’s seasons described as “the auteur-anthology format—one writer, one director, two movie stars, and one story per a season.” This format—longer, fewer episodes—contrasts with typical television, lending True Detective an air of cinema. Romano from the start identifies True Detective as equal to its higher-end relative the movie, even alluding to a superiority as it allows a greater span of time to devote to characters. He states “it’s an even purer form of auteur TV, than, say, Deadwood.”

The show is additionally legitimized in the article through its association with respected culture through the presence of well-known movie actors. Pizzolatto augments the corresponding quality of actors and show saying “If you have thoroughbreds, let ‘em run…It would be a misuse of actors like Matthew and Woody to do something safer.” Movie actors like Matthew McConaughey further the show’s paralyzation with film. The show is also addressed several times as philosophical, Pizzolatto himself emphasizing its complexity and therefore distance from simply plotted mass-viewer sitcom television. He rejects critics simplification, stating the philosophies to be intense and legitimate. 

Pizzolatto’s history as an artist and writer frames the show as a valuable piece of art. He identifies the show and his creative process as such explaining his rejection of its commercialization saying he “wouldn’t do it with anything I genuinely cared about as an artist.” Pizzolatto is thus put in the role of author and artist personae, the show becoming a symbol of his personal expression. He calls writing for television something “you could put your heart and soul and every bit go yourself into it, the same way you could a novel.” Both Pizzolatto’s artistic identity and devotion to True Detective support its cultural sophistication. The show can further be seen as his personal expression in its autobiographical nature—Pizzolatto grew up in Louisiana and Austin. 

As Pizzolatto promotes his identity as an auteur he legitimates the show by association as his creation. He additionally elevates his own celebrity status. Pizzolatto asserts his role in the episodes explaining he “was on the set the entire time,” does all the writing, connects with the actors and describes the process of creating the show as consuming. The interview emphasizes that Pizzolatto by making True Detective is crafting personal expression; he is an auteur of elevated television. As he boasts “ I’ve talked to other show runners. If there’s one who’s more involved I haven’t heard of it.” He even refers the to the episodes as his “children.” Pizzolatto affirms his undeniable responsibility in the creation of the show; he is the individual responsible for the storytelling more so than anyone else. 

But the association of True Detective as a work of cinematic art and Pizzolatto as a auteur counts upon the contrast of low-brow cable television. True Detective is esteemed for its contrasting provocation of cultural discussion and engagement.  The cult fandom of True Detective looks at Pizzolatto and affirms his presentation as a artist and auteur aligning his show with legitimized and respected culture drastically different from other television. This separation both discounts a history of television in its inferiority and elevates True Detective. With such a drastically different format and such a sense of strong artistic direction sophistication True Detective is hardly considered television. Instead its HBO: television that denies being television in the name of legitimization. I wonder if old “television” will be completely left behind in the creation of a new concept of television, one which does not even want to be considered television.