Showrunners panel: Lee Eisenberg, Liz Feldman, Eric Kripke, Prentice Penny, Billy Ray
If you consider yourself “obsessed” with television, you’re not alone. Five of TV’s top showrunners recently spoke with Gold Derby (watch above) about their early careers and when they knew they wanted to work in Hollywood: Eric Kripke (“The Boys”), Billy Ray (“The Comey Rule”), Liz Feldman (“Dead to Me”), Prentice Penny (“Insecure”) and Lee Eisenberg (“Little America”). Click each name above to watch their individual interviews separate from our Meet the BTL Experts: TV Showrunners group panel.
“I am one of those people who have always known what I wanted to do,” Feldman readily admits. “I was absolutely obsessed with TV from the first moment I ever saw it.” She cites children’s series “Romper Room” and sitcom “Family Ties” as big inspirations when she was growing up. “I read an article about Gary David Goldberg in People magazine … and it talked about what a showrunner was,” Feldman continues. “Obviously at that point I had no idea somebody was actually behind the scenes pulling the strings. I had this moment of realization even that young going, ‘I think I can do that.'”
Kripke chimes in, “I came up as sort of a Steven Spielberg nut. It was ‘E.T.’ and I was nine years old. I came home from that movie and I asked my mom, ‘Someone had to make that, right? Okay, well then that’s what I want to do.” As an aspiring film director, Kripke saw television as an “insufferable piece of s***,” laughing, “I was just that guy.” But after writing pilots for Warner Bros. in the early 2000s, he saw a different side to the industry. “Everyone has this wonderful humility and ‘let’s get it done’ energy that I to this day still love. It just felt like coming home and I never turned away since.”
Penny has a similar origin story, right down to being inspired by Goldberg’s “Sit, Ubu, Sit” production company tagline. “Oh, that guy must be the guy in charge,” he recalls thinking. “I grew up in L.A. but I still didn’t know anybody in the business at all,” Penny notes. “Spike Lee used to write these books as he would make movies, like a journal. I used to just buy them and read them and he talked about going to film school. At the time, USC film school had this summer program for high school students. I did that for two weeks and I was like, this is all I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Eisenberg jokes he was a “virgin late into my life” because of his love for watching TV and film. “For me it didn’t occur to me that other people actually wrote it,” he confesses. It wasn’t until he met someone who was writing a “Seinfeld” spec script that he realized this could be a job. “I went home that summer and my best friend and I started writing screenplays, so when we came out to LA in ’99 we had three scripts, and I was like, okay now the money will start rolling in.” Eisenberg started out as a writer’s assistant until he hit it big with “JAG” and later “The Office.”
Ray’s first foot in the door was when he sold an episode of “The Jetsons” when he was just 19. “I became a hero in my fraternity at that moment in time,” he smiles. “It’s one of those things where if you do it once it’s really cool, if you do it twice you’re just this guy who writes for ‘The Jetsons.'” For the next 30 years Ray worked in film until he saw “the memo that was going around Hollywood that drama in features was dead.” That’s when he realized there was “all of this ground that features had surrendered to television, because television was just doing it so well.”