10 Famous TV Showrunners’ Biggest Regrets


With all the vainglory and self-promotion festering on the Twitter frontier, we gotta say it’s refreshing when people use their 140 characters for humble purposes (notwithstanding the fact that the existence of a singular selfless tweet has yet to be confirmed). A fine example of this would be last weekend’s cavalcade of TV showrunner remorse, incited by Damon Lindelof’s, “The weather in LA this week has been as consistent as the third season of LOST.” Bill Lawrence stepped up next, tweeting, “Many, many episodes of Scrubs sucked balls” and “Cougar Town’s first six eps made me sad.” Then Shonda Rhimes came forth, confessing that Seasons 4 and 5 of Grey’s Anatomy make her “want to hide in a dark cave and maybe change my name.” Which actually had us feeling bad as one can for famous rich people, and then scouring for other confessionals like these. Click through to see what we found, and please join in to add your favorite showrunner regrets in the comments!

J.J. Abrams and Jeff Pinkner, Alias

In 2006 Abrams and Pinkner spoke to Entertainment Weekly about their biggest regrets, namely being forced to ditch the cliffhangers after Season 1, the Rambaldi subplot, and “mismanaging Syd’s men” — specifically Vaughn (for his “vengeance-obsessed turn” plotline in the third season) and Will (who was despised during the show’s run for always putting Syd in danger). For those who missed the show, you might be interested to take a closer look at the above picture, featuring Jennifer Garner (left, amazing wig) and one Bradley Cooper (right, cowboy hat), who played Will the first two seasons (and made occasional appearances for the rest of the show).

Ron Moore, Battlestar Galactica

In the 2009 Coilhouse interview delightfully entitled “Mindfrak! Ron Moore Explains Himself,” the show’s much venerated (re)creator said:

“I think Lee and Dualla’s relationship was rushed. We didn’t really develop that relationship in a satisfying way. I think that I didn’t get a clear handle on Lee Adama’s character early enough. I kind of zigged and zagged and tried different things as I was trying to figure out the way he fit into the structure overall. As a result, it wasn’t until we moved him out of the cockpit and into the political world in this last season that it all came together, and so the character came into focus late. I think those are probably the two big regrets.”

As for the scientific accuracy of the show (a key principle in Moore’s NSF manifesto, where “the speed of light is law”), BSG Science Advisor Kevin Grazier revealed the things he would change in a Discover interview, also in 2009:

“There’s two. There’s one that I recognized too late. That was when the explosion in Water blew out the side of the [Galactica] and we have a big venting of water. [Galactica] was connected to the Virgon Express. That would have imparted a pretty healthy delta v [change in velocity], meaning it would have yanked the Virgon Express with [the Galactica] and probably broken the water lines. I didn’t think of that until too late, and I called and said ‘hang on!’ and they said ‘that ship’s sailed, sorry.’ That was the second episode and I was a baby science advisor then. The other one is I wish I would have been more instant with the constellations in Home Part 2. Because when you start thinking about those constellations, who put them there? Wasn’t the Kobolians. Those aren’t seen from the original Earth, so where did those constellations come from?”

Paul Stupin, Dawson’s Creek

We’ve been schooled so many times by the promise of a show “going back to its roots” that the phrase feels all but meaningless. For a great example (in our humble opinion) of a show that actually did go back to its roots after a serious misfire (in this case a haphazard deus ex machina from one of the Sweet Valley twins), see the exchange below with DC executive producer Paul Stupin and Teen Drama Whore, which sadly has been on hiatus since 2010:

TDW: Well, conversely, do you have a big regret or something you wish you did differently?

Stupin: My biggest regret would probably be, as I think about it – and it was a mistake we made – was the character of Eve. Remember that character?

TDW: Yeah. You guys even have a joke about that in the episode before the series finale.

Stupin: Yeah. I don’t think the first episodes of season 3 really were as memorable as the other episodes. And I think that whole notion of “Is she Jen’s sister? Is she not?” – I don’t think that was that effective. I don’t look back on that run of episodes as my favorites.

TDW: Yeah, I think the fans do agree with that.

Stupin: Yeah, but you know what, we turn it around. In the middle of that season we turned it around with –

TDW: With Joey and Pacey.

Stupin: Yeah, with Joey and Pacey. And that certainly helped get us back, I think, to our roots.

Josh Schwartz, The O.C.

Speaking of precocious teen dramas, on the eve of Gossip Girl’s debut, way back in 2007, Josh Schwartz reflected on The O.C. over at Vulture, admitting “the whole first half of the third season was a total mess.” Below is the full explanation (key word being Johnny):

“We were told to add this Jerri Ryan character to the show that we had no idea what to do with. We were just told we had to add an adult female character. It went nowhere, and we had no plan for it, and it just didn’t fit the show. And then we went down the wrong road with this kid playing Johnny [the alcoholic surfer kid who fell for Marissa]. It was just flat. All of a sudden, everything the show mocked, it kind of became. And then killing Mischa [Barton] off. I think it led to a real creative resurgence in the fourth season, but that was hard decision.”

Jason Katims, Friday Night Lights

While the writer’s strike certainly didn’t do FNL any favors (nor prevent it from going on to become a critical darling), Katims admitted that the show was fraught with other problems before being sent to DirecTV. As he told HitFix in 2011:

“Because the end of season 2 was aborted, we didn’t really get a chance to finish the show. The other thing about season 2, other than the murder storyline, that I felt was problematic was that it was very light in football. People responded to that, and we were about to go into a very big football storyline when the strike happened. We were faced with this decision of would we tell this arc that we knew where we were going, so do we just pick up and tell those stories for four or five episodes and then jump to the next fall? Any way we thought of that, it just felt like it wasn’t whole cloth. It felt like we would be starting and stopping, so we decided to make a clean break and move forward to the next year of school, and with that, there were some leaps that the audience had to take with us.”

And on character do-overs?

“I regret certain things, like not being able to bring Smash’s mom back and do more stories with her. Grandma Saracen since Matt left, we couldn’t find ways into story for her. We lost Tim Riggins for the greater part of the fifth season. That was a decision made because of a movie role that he had. I would’ve liked to have brought him back earlier in the season and done more with him. What Taylor brings to that character is just indescribable and the heart of the show. But this is all to say it was a good show. We told a lot of great stories, but there were always more we could have told.”

Ilene Chaiken, The L Word

To see how far television has come in only a few short years, one only needs to dig up “trending articles” from 2006. Take this report at The New York Times on the “increasingly widespread plot device” of killing off lead characters. In the piece, L Word creator Chaiken explained that she killed off fan favorite Dana Fairbanks (cancer complications, Season 3) because executives had asked her to deal with real things, “including death.” But when the cast met again on the reunion special, she revealed it to be her biggest regret:

“The one thing that I most regret on the show is Dana’s death. The reaction was so passionate and the grief was so deeply felt – and to have be responsible for causing that kind of grief just is hard to live with.… If I could go back and do it over again that might be the one thing I do differently.”

Doug Ellin, Entourage

Entourage received its share of flack for skimping on episode length (we swear there were a few that clocked in under 20 minutes), so perhaps it’s no surprise show creator Doug Ellin cited “laziness” as his biggest mistake to Reuters in 2010:

“I wish I did more episodes. I look at all of (these guys), and it’s truly ridiculous how many episodes they do. But HBO was both great and bad because in the beginning. (Executive) Chris Albrecht was like, ‘You can do as many as you can possibly handle.’ I’m kind of a lazy guy, so why do so many? But the actors went from getting paid nothing to getting paid a lot and now that I want to do a lot more, they’re like, ‘Well, now we can’t do it because we don’t have the money.'”

Brannon Braga, Star Trek

Braga, widely known as the man Star Trek fans “love to hate,” maintained in a 2011 interview that despite the show’s criticism, Star Trek: Voyager evoked some of his best storytelling. Which isn’t to say he has no regrets:

“Of course, the one I’d just as soon forget is called ‘Threshold.’ That’s the one in which Janeway and Paris turn into lizards. That’s a real low point. I was trying something. I don’t want to get into what I was trying to do, but it didn’t quite work. It was my homage, I guess, to David Cronenberg’s The Fly, but it really backfired on me. It was poorly executed by me.”

Seth MacFarlane, Family Guy

In an interview this year, MacFarlane admitted that he regrets some of the show’s jokes, notably the JFK Pez Dispenser (see above clip), which he “would probably not do now.” He also revealed having a soft spot for bruised celebrity egos, confessing to feeling “horrible” about Adrien Beaky, which made actor Adrien Brody sad in real life.

Ryan Murphy, Glee

Since Glee started, Murphy has come forth with a few public apologies, notably for his Kings of Leon slam, as well as the moments the show excluded a younger audience. As he told Deadline last year:

“I think the condom demonstration was a road to far. I think showing a kid masturbating was a bridge too far. You know, when you’re creating a show you’re in the middle of it and then you hear the comments.”