What Pirates And Cults Teach The Rest of TV About Ego

'Black Sails' and 'The Leftovers' both stand as a lesson to all showrunners. 

You might think the key ingredients to building a good show are strong writing, acting, and production value — and to a large extent, they are. But there’s one quality that’s even more crucial: showrunners who check their egos at the door. That’s why they’re best in pairs.

Lone wolf showrunners don’t have anyone to stop them from drinking their own kool-aid. We see this firsthand in shows like Vikings and Sons of Anarchy, which vehemently continue with elements both audience members and critics have railed against. To produce a truly effective show takes two steps: Showrunners must have a “no”-man, and showrunners must be willing to admit when something just isn’t working. Nowhere is this successful scenario more apparent than in two of the best shows currently running: Black Sails and The Leftovers.

Both shows had iffy first seasons which received mixed reviews: The Leftovers was criticized for being too self-serious, and Black Sails took flak for introducing all of its expansive cast all at once, and not clarifying on whom the focus would be. Did the showrunners cry about it or rail against critics for being incompetent? Nope, they turned it around, fixed their freshmen mistakes and delivered two of the most exquisite second seasons to hit television in the past decade.

When The Leftovers creator Damon Lindelof — who helms the show with Tom Perrotta — spoke to Inverse, he knew exactly why The Leftovers is better than his first show Lost: “Nobody is drinking the Kool-Aid,” he said. “There are many ideas that I throw out there and people look at me and say, That’s so fucking stupid.’ Then I go, ‘Thank you for giving me a reality check.’

When Black Sails creators Jonathan Steinberg and Robert Levine spoke to Inverse, they expressed similar sentiments: “Some of what we’ve tried hasn’t worked the way we’d hoped, and we’ve learned,” Steinberg said. “But if you’re not trying those things, you’re also in trouble.”

There’s a pattern here, and it’s one fellow showrunners would do well to imitate. Everyone has an impulse to flip the bird at critics — but it’s only to their benefit when they ignore it, take a deep breath, and make the necessary changes.

Unless, of course, critics are completely off-base. Then screw us, right?