It takes a lot of people to make a TV show: actors, writers, people who do makeup, lighting, the guy who got Bryan Cranston the pizza he threw on that episode of Breaking Bad. That hasn’t stopped everyone from directing attention toward showrunners, who’ve increasingly taken on the role of creative frontman for a series. The cult of the showrunner doesn’t seem like it’s going away any time soon, at least not while people like True Detective’s Nic Pizzolatto or Orange Is The New Black’s Jenji Kohan can still draw huge audiences and attention — there’s even a whole book about how “difficult” genius dudes are apparently responsible for all the great TV of the past few decades. But the standard narratives about showrunners miss one important thing: They’re basically the same as major-label rappers.
Both showrunners and (especially) major-label rappers have similar executive creative roles, directing huge teams of people to work on singular artistic products that’ll be attributed solely to them. Both have a habit of fighting with their corporate overseers, in the form of networks or record labels. And unsurprisingly, they also tend to breed similar personalities. Here are some showrunners and their suspiciously similar rapper counterparts.
Aaron Sorkin = Common
Self-professed wise, great men whose clever packaging of standard liberal politics was cool in the late 1990s. Not doing themselves any favors lately, bordering on self-parody — The Newsroom casts a shadow on The West Wing in the same way post-Be Common makes listening to “I Used to Love H.E.R.” increasingly like cringing at the lyrics you scribbled in a notebook in middle school.
Shonda Rhimes = Nicki Minaj
Beyond making the world safer and more badass for women of color, both manage to successfully bridge gaps between genres within their dude-dominated fields. Nicki can drop “real hip-hop” and tear off heads on “Monster” or “Lookin Ass” and in the next breath sell millions of records on the strength of “Starships” or “Super Bass,” all in the same career. Meanwhile, Shonda’s empire has made soapiness and unabashed melodrama both critically respected and some of the most popular stuff on TV. The politics and sex on Scandal just make sense together, and what season is Grey’s Anatomy in again? Bow down.
David Simon = Nas
The Wire is the TV version of Illmatic — it’s a classic of social realism, but maybe everyone should shut up about it for a while.
David Milch = Lil Wayne
Produced some work of insane, inhuman genius for a minute there in the early ’00s. Now just insane.
Lena Dunham = Drake
Aubrey and Lena have so much in common! They’re both deeply in touch with their feelings (and committed to making art out of those feelings), prone to sexual and romantic misadventures, and they’re both very divisive — just as many people can’t stand them as call them the leading artists of a generation. And they could practically have gone to the same Jewish summer camp. Let’s get Drake to guest star in Season 4 of Girls so he can leave Hannah tender voice mails while she’s in Iowa.
Vince Gilligan = Kendrick Lamar
Both are nice guys with a nasty bite and one masterpiece; within a year, we’ll see if that was the only one each had in him. Love themselves (and you).
Kurt Sutter = Eminem
Successful provocateurs early in their careers who might to need to stop recycling the same old tricks. It’s hard to sympathize with angry, rich, middle-aged white men.
Joss Whedon = Ice Cube
Really amazing, hyper-verbal early work, but now they’re both in movies and, honestly, it’s just not the same.
Matthew Weiner = Kanye West, 2004-2009
After coming up under the tutelage of one of the greats (The Sopranos’ David Chase; Jay Z) and being repeatedly turned away from the big leagues (Weiner’s Mad Men pilot script floated around Hollywood for years; Kanye was told he couldn’t rap), both struck out on their own with a reputation for incurable perfectionism, a deeply inflated ego, and an impeccable, loud fashion sense. The overt striving for deeper, world-historical meaning aside, their art is pretty damned pretty. And Dropout Bear is basically Don Draper.
Dan Harmon = Kanye West, 2009-2010
After creating something ridiculously dark and introspective, went through a period of public rejection and wandering in the wilderness. Returned better than anyone could have reasonably expected while consciously cultivating a cult of personality and continuing to run an extraordinary amount of pop culture influences through a blender to create something new and surprisingly emotionally affecting. Arguably even more of a perfectionist than Matthew Weiner.
Matthew Weiner = Kanye West, 2011-Present
The Yeezus tour:
Eric Thurm (@EricThurm) is a writer living in New York who has written for Complex, the A.V. Club, and Los Angeles Review of Books.