The Art of Directing and Running a Show: Takeaways from a Conversation with Annetta Marion and Kathryn O’Kane

By Mellini Kantayya

“Showrunner” is a relatively recent term specific to episodic television. Not surprisingly, it refers to the person ‘running the show.’ They are hired by the production entity and in turn hire all department heads. The ultimate responsibility for the end product falls squarely on their shoulders.

In October, NYWIFT board member and VP of Programming  Rosalind Murphy produced A Conversation with Annetta Marion and Kathryn O’Kane: The Art of Directing and Running A Show The Art of Directing and Running a Show. The event featured a frank conversation between directors/showrunners Annetta Marion (Oprah’s Master Class, OWN Network) and Kathryn O’Kane (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Netflix). O’Kane and Marion’s discussion illuminated the unique role of the showrunner, and the combination of skill, gumption, and inspiration essential in helming a show.

The showrunner needs to see the big picture at all times. While department heads and line producers are awash with details, showrunners look across all episodes and keep an eye on the project as a whole. They ensure that a clear through-line and aesthetic continuity are maintained throughout. Marion “prioritize[s] the creative and use[s] [her] analytical skills to support that.”

Being a leader and setting the tone is paramount. Kathryn O’Kane has a rule in hiring: “nobody mean.” It’s the showrunner’s responsibility to build an enthusiastic, respectful team that works in service of the show. They’re cheerleaders with the know-how to communicate and tailor information for each individual so it’s received in the best possible and most effective way. As challenging as this may be, Marion added that, “doing something that’s really hard in [that] group dynamic,” is the joy of the job.

Use the principles of improv. It’s advice one would expect for performing in a television show rather than running one, but both Marion and O’Kane strongly suggested taking an improv class. Marion stated, “In improv you have to deal with your circumstance,” regardless of what comes your way. O’Kane credits improv with helping her become a better, more present listener. She said, “Being present, and not fearing conflict, is such an essential tool.”

Problems? Challenges? It’s the showrunner’s job to fix it. Annetta Marion said, “When everything you’ve planned for goes wrong—it’s ok. The job is to still get it done…sometimes you need to be an exaggerated version of yourself and really take control.” Kathryn O’Kane learned from Marion to always delivers “bad news like the weather report”—quickly and flatly. She then offers solutions, stating her first choice first. She concluded, “Be bold and trust yourself. The show must go on!”


The Art of Directing and Running a Show is one of more than 50 panels, workshops, and networking events programmed by NYWIFT each year. See what’s coming up in our calendar.



Mellini_Kantayya Mellini Kantayya is an actor, author of "Actor. Writer. Whatever. (essays on my rise to the top of the bottom of the entertainment industry)", contributor to Huffington Post Comedy, and an active NYWIFT member. www.mellinikantayya.com

View all posts by Mellini_Kantayya

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *




Related Posts

Director Julie Dash Receives Grant From The National Endowment for the Humanities

Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, a documentary about the life and works of Vertamae Smart Grosvenor, which is currently in development with NYWIFT Muse Honoree Julie Dash as director, has been awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The film is produced by NYWIFT Board member, Rachel Watanabe-Batton and Dash, with Patricia Williams Lessane, PhD. and Juanita Anderson as co-producers.


Cynthia’s Picks: Director Disconnect, Board Elections, Ladies’ Morning

Director Disconnect: While the call for diversity in Hollywood is getting more bandwidth than ever, the movement toward inclusion is still not reaching the director’s...


Cynthia’s Picks: Natural Leader, Sobering Statistics, Regina King

This week please join us in welcoming new NYWIFT Executive Director Cynthia Lopez! Cynthia will offer her top picks of NYWIFT and industry news to...


Terry’s Picks: Great Gifts, Online Festival, Yvonne Russo

Thank you to everyone who attended the 39th Annual Muse Awards on Thursday! It was such an honor to receive the Made in NY Award...