Writers & Authorship

Curator's Note

In film, authorship traditionally belongs to the director. In TV it belongs to the producer. A strand of academic thought has alternatively considered the death of the auteur in recent years. Yet the writers’ strike raises the issue of authorship in new and pressing ways. Witty and humorous, this video reminds us that without writers, we wouldn’t have all those memorable lines that we quote at opportune moments. It shows us how few clues we need to recognize movies and TV shows. It urges us to think about the carefully scripted words that become part of American pop culture. But it also encourages us to think about the specificities of writing for television and writing for film. With TV, for instance, there is a certain mystery behind the process of production; often, the head writer is also the creator and executive producer, known simply as the showrunner. This video raises useful questions about the role of the writer vis-à-vis different media. How does the strike, and videos like this, highlight the need to understand the processes of film and media-making? How does it complicate the current status and definition of authorship in media studies?


The most fascinating thing about television writing is the relatively large size of the writing staffs. The showrunner has overall control, yet writes relatively few scripts himself (unless he's a coked-up Sorkin type!) But the other writers nonetheless strive to write in a way consistent with the showrunner's style in order to achieve a consistent storyworld. At the same time fans distinguish amongst the styles of the individual writers. so everybody collectively participates in the single author function while nonetheless retaining an element of individual style.

I agree with Roberta, though would add the caveat that each writing staff operates under its own practices (including rules, rituals, hierarchies, and so on). Sorkin (and to a slightly lesser extent, David E. Kelley) represent one end of the spectrum, while other staffs are less tied to "an" author, either specifically in the body of the showrunner, or even collectively. The challenge of analyzing authorship (post-auteurism, regardless of medium) is that these practices are difficult to disentangle from their pubic discourses. That said, I'm tempted to argue that the public discourses, in fact, make up the category of "authorship" (at least that's what I'll be working on a whole lot on paper and at conferences in 2008!). Accordingly, the strike, and all its coverage and responses, foregrounds the very basis of authorship in a very important way, and at an important cultural moment.

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