Anybody who thinks broadcast television is dying obviously hasn't met Greg Berlanti, the talented and prolific writer and superproducer behind this fall's two biggest freshman series among viewers 18-49.
First, there's NBC's Blindspot, which the network has already renewed for a second season. Then, there's Supergirl on CBS, Berlanti's third superhero series along with the CW's The Flash (that network's most-watched show ever) and Arrow. (A fourth superhero project, the Flash/Arrow spinoff DC's Legends of Tomorrow, will debut Jan. 21.) As if that weren't enough on his plate, he's also got The Mysteries of Laura, NBC's sole freshman series from last season to make it to a second year.
Berlanti, Adweek's TV Producer of the Year, never intended to oversee six TV shows at once (he serves as co-showrunner on the four superhero series and is executive producer of Blindspot and Laura). "It's a combination of a lot of past relationships coming to fruition—and, as always in this business, luck," says Berlanti, who delegates many duties to key allies like Sarah Schechter, who runs his production company, but maintains strict control over each show's essential elements. "I find I can affect the quality of an episode if I focus on the things that I've always enjoyed the most: What are the stories, who's acting in them and the finished cut," he says.
Juggling six TV shows requires "a lot of time management," notes Berlanti, who begins every day writing scripts ("My morning time is my most creative," he relates) before transitioning to making notes on other writers' scripts and "breaking" story arcs for upcoming episodes. After that, he shifts his attention to casting and budget matters, before ending the day in the editing room "because I don't have to use my brain in quite the same way," he says. "It's more reactive than trying to generate something."
Berlanti employs the same mantra for all his projects: "Heart. Humor. Spectacle." "My favorite episodes of TV as a viewer, and certainly as a writer or producer, have those elements," he explains. "The humor keeps the episodes enjoyable and reminds you that not everything has to be deadly serious. Heart is something that I've always led with when I've written, or responded to in other people's stories. And the spectacle can be the emotional spectacle, or it can be the visual effects and action of it all."
The producer, who previously worked on the WB's Dawson's Creek and Everwood and ABC's Brothers and Sisters, continues to create smashes for broadcast television even as many of his writer-producer peers have turned to cable channels and streaming sites. "To me, there's still nothing more thrilling than, every week, people getting to see another chapter in this story that you're telling," says Berlanti, who recently extended his lucrative TV deal with Warner Bros. through 2020.
Berlanti's phenomenal success seems to surprise him as much as anyone. What does he chalk it up to? "If I had to give odds, I would say 30 percent of whatever good fortune I've had in this business has been luck and 50 percent has been casting—so that's 80 percent right there," he says. "And 20 percent is just working really hard and taking risks."
One of his biggest risks was taking Supergirl to CBS—which hadn't debuted a superhero series since 1990—instead of the CW. The producer wanted to create a show with "wide, mainstream appeal" (i.e., the kind of series CBS viewers flock to) that would inspire the sort of wonder and awe the original Superman movie in the '70s did for him and his friends as kids. "Having that same kind of fun and a sense of excitement with the show, that's always the most fun for me," he says. "Because then, 15, 20 years from now, someone's going to come up to you at a cocktail party and say, 'Oh my God! That was my show when I was a kid growing up.' That makes it worth it."
But Berlanti says Supergirl and midseason's Legends also herald the end—at least for now—of his successful run of superhero series.
"I can very easily justify how each one of those shows is very different and distinct from the other," he says. "Flash has a family drama element, Arrow has a epic saga/crime element, Supergirl has a young-woman-in-the-city and a workplace element, and Legends is like the Dirty Dozen teaming up. But I couldn't honestly tell you there's some other show we would have the energy to participate in at this point that would feel distinct from those."
While there are no new superheroes on the horizon, the indefatigable Berlanti already has six other shows in development for next season. He insists he's not in any danger of burning out, however. "There is the sense that I'm doing so much on my own, but we are a company," he says. "There are a lot of people in this business that work just as hard as I do."
This story first appeared in the Nov. 30 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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