The television showrunner has become a figure of some notoriety. From HBO's three Davids (Chase, Simon, Milch) to Mad Men's Matthew Weiner to Community’s dispatched creator, Dan Harmon, the showrunner is an auteur who imparts a unique signature upon each show and who oversees an award-winning (if not ratings-winning) program. More often than not, this auteur is a man. For example, in a new book, critic Alan Sepinwall spotlights 12 programs that created the contemporary golden age of television. Of these 12 programs, not a single one was created by a woman. The female showrunner exists but she is rarer. Yet some female showrunners – like Amy Sherman-Palladino [S-P] – break through by asserting their unique authorial voice and by engaging in masculinist discourses of control.
Sherman-Palladino, creator of Gilmore Girls [GG] and Bunheads, delivers a "girly" program yet derides overt femininity. To wit, S-P comments of her current relationship with ABC Family: "I never pictured myself as an ABC Family chick." Known for her signature style (fast-paced, quippy dialogue) and ability to shift from humor to moving drama in an instant, S-P's characters inhabit a world of familial angst, romantic disappointment, and personal discovery. S-P's public persona sometimes seems antithetical to the sentimental world she creates: she curses frequently and is unafraid to battle with network executives to protect the integrity of her creative vision. So determined is S-P that she left GG before its final season when negotiations with Warner Bros. stalled. Seemingly, S-P lost that battle. Someone else wrote the final season of the program she created.
Yet somehow Sherman-Palladino has maintained authorship of GG, notwithstanding. Bunheads, while unique in particular ways, shares an awful lot in common with GG: same small town charm, focus on several generations of women, pop culture-infused dialogue, and even the same actors (including Kelly Bishop, Sean Gunn, and Liza Weil). Bunheads also boasts a similar devotion from critics (here and here). S-P partially attributes her creative freedom to the support of an ABC Family female executive, Kate Juergens. Further, S-P remains GG’s author in another way. She teased in 2006 to spoiler disseminator Michael Ausiello that she knew the exact ending to GG, which would consist of four words. These unknown four words persist in GG lore – to this day, she is asked to reveal them. So far, she has kept mum. For fans, then, the show remains alive until Sherman-Palladino ends it, on her own terms.