We're watching the final ever episodes of True Blood with Alan Ball at the helm right now — Ball is stepping away for next season. And soon enough, we'll get to see what Community looks like without Dan Harmon as showrunner. In other words, the televisual sky is falling!
But actually, plenty of TV shows have lost their original showrunner and kept on trucking. With mixed results, admittedly. Here are 10 science fiction and fantasy shows that survived a change at the top.
1) Almost every Star Trek show
Gene Roddenberry famously stepped away from being involved with his creation for a while during the second season — and more or less left altogether for the third season, after the show was given the "death slot." His replacement, Fred Freiberger, is frequently blamed for some of the show's most embarrassing excesses in its final season — including "The Way to Eden" (above), which started out as D.C. Fontana's story about Dr. McCoy's daughter. Meanwhile, Roddenberry also stepped back from Star Trek: The Next Generation after he became ill. Later, Michael Piller co-created Deep Space Nine, but left after the first couple of seasons. And Enterprise lost original showrunners Rick Berman and Brannon Braga in its final season, to be replaced with Manny Coto, whose focus on the show's mythos made many fans happier than previous seasons had.
2) Doctor Who
Everybody knows that Doctor Who's amazing longevity is due to its ability to replace its lead actor — but what if the show had fallen apart when David Whitaker left as original script editor? Whitaker was responsible, as much as anybody, for setting the show's tone of exploration and scientific adventure, and he handed over to one of the show's most experienced writers, Dennis Spooner. In more recent years, Russell T. Davies handed over to Steven Moffat, with very little change in the show's popularity.
This show seems to have had as much upheaval behind the cameras as in front of them. In the first season, Star Trek: TNG veteran Tracy Tormé was the showrunner, and he "had a firm handle on who the characters were and what their world was like," according to writer Lee Goldberg. After one season, Tormé left, to be replaced by Jacob Epstein — who was fired after a season. This resulted in what fans call "the dreaded season three."
Original creator and showrunner Eric Kripke had planned to end the show at the end of the fifth season, when the "Lucifer" storyline wrapped up. When The CW pushed for the show to continue, Kripke left, leaving the show's most prolific writer, Sera Gamble, as showrunner with Robert Singer also in charge. After two frequently entertaining but muddled seasons, Gamble also left — and now a new showrunner, Jeremy Carver, is promising to bring the show back to basics.
Ronald D. Moore was showrunner for the first season, then he left to go start the Battlestar Galactica reboot. The show continued for a second season, then was cancelled. Says Moore, "it was a very very difficult show. It was a very troubled show and we had problems with the show. The network had problems with the show. There were sort of warring camps among the writers." Moore also joined the writing staff of Roswell with its second season, but existing showrunner Jason Katims also stayed on.
Original co-creators and showrunners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar left after seven seasons, to be replaced for the final few years by Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders. The result was an even greater focus on DC Universe mythos, with more costumed guest stars and more random shout-outs to lesser-known DC heroes. Depending on how you felt about the fact that everybody except Clark was in costume, it was either a great coda or a weird one.
Robert Hewitt Wolfe more or less created this show, based on notes left by Gene Roddenberry — and then was pushed out after two seasons, to make way for a much more "action-oriented" show that managed to last another few seasons. The storylines became a lot more focused on Kevin Sorbo's character Dylan, especially the somewhat odd fifth season in which Dylan Hunt became a god or something.
8) The Walking Dead
Frank Darabont was pushed out as showrunner during season two — famously, just a couple days after he appeared at Comic Con for the show. And his replacement, Glen Mazzara, led the show to a successful second season — with 9 million viewers for the finale. To people who say the second season was too slow-paced and languid after the crazy first year, Mazzara promises the new season will be a "thrill ride."
9) Falling Skies
Original showrunner Mark Verheiden left after the first year — leaving new showrunner Remi Aubuchon with a tricky cliffhanger — Tom Mason choosing to go aboard an alien spaceship. Luckily, Verheiden has stuck around as a writer during season two, including helping to resolve that cliffhanger and writing this coming Sunday's episode.
Original showrunner Ira Stephen Behr (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) left at the end of season one, and was replaced by Bruce Miller (Eureka, The 4400). Miller promised his new approach to the show would include more drama and more sex, plus a major death.
Thanks to Sean for the article idea!