Showrunners Insight: ‘Pachinko’s Soo Hugh & ‘Tehran’s Alon Aranya


TBI has partnered with LA- and London-based drama consultancy MediaXchange to get under the skin of some of the best showrunners in the business and find out what makes them tick, what their favourite shows are – and what series got cancelled before its time.

In this first instalment, we speak to Pachinko and The Terror’s Soo Hugh, alongside Tehran and Your Honor’s Alon Aranya.

Soo Hugh

Soo Hugh

Hugh is currently working on bringing the international bestseller Pachinko to the small screen for Apple TV+ and has projects in the works with Amazon and Media Res, among numerous others. She was co-showrunner on the first season of AMC’s The Terror, created The Whispers for ABC and has credits on The Killing for AMC and CBS’s Under The Dome.

In two sentences, tell us how you became a showrunner and why.

I started off as a film snob who thought television was a lesser art. This was many years ago, and once I discovered how empowering the TV medium was to a creative vision, I knew I wanted to be a showrunner and was lucky enough to sell a crazy show to ABC that actually got made.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Believing in myself. Making a series has become a long, long process. There are a lot of voices that come in and out of the chorus and it’s all too easy to stop hearing your own voice within. While collaboration is a crucial part of this job, so is knowing when to stop listening and just act. Otherwise, the talking will never stop.


What’s the best part of being a showrunner?

Meeting and working with an insane number of talented people – it’s such a joy and privilege.

What single action most helped you to become a showrunner?

Ignorance. I didn’t know all the rules on my first show, so I didn’t know where the lines were drawn. I can’t use that excuse anymore, so I would say that what helps me the most now in my career is working with people I trust and respect and bringing them aboard from show to show.

What is the biggest single challenge facing the industry?

Risk averseness. Fear of our own creative shadows.

How can the industry improve diversity off-screen?

Get rid of double standards. Allow diverse voices the same rate of failure as everyone else.

The Terror

Name the favourite show of your lifetime.

There are so many! Can’t answer this one.

Best show to be cancelled too soon?

Deadwood. Otherwise, I feel like shows run on for too long!

Which show nailed its finale and why?

I know it’s not the most imaginative thing to say but The Sopranos. A head-scratcher initially that has now mellowed into that, ‘a-ha’ of inevitability. Of course. Now, it’s iconic.

What has been your proudest moment in the industry?

Crying on set behind the monitor because I was so moved by the scene.

Alon Aranya

Alon Aranya

Aranya has worked on almost 50 scripted shows, including Betrayal for ABC and Hostages for CBS. He is currently behind Apple TV+ hit Tehran, as well as Bryan Cranston-starring Your Honor and Dutch dramedy Best Seller Boy, which is based on the bestselling book by Mano Bouzamour.

In two sentences, tell us how you became a showrunner/producer and why.

I studied dramatic writing at NYU Tisch and after working as a writer for a few years, I realised I could use my storytelling experience to develop and produce shows. I was able to get the rights to a few scripted formats from overseas to adapt in the US market. I will always be a writer but the realisation that I’m not only a writer opened up the possibility to become one of the leading international drama producers in the world.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

I spend hours every day talking with writers overseas about doing another rewrite, another polish to elevate their material to meet the expectations of global buyers. Most writers outside the US understandably can’t always afford to do endless work in development because they aren’t paid enough for their time. This is a serious challenge in developing international drama as it can impede the quality of drama development and production in the years to come.

What’s the best part of being a showrunner/producer?

The best part about being a producer is actually nourishing a project from an idea through development and financing all the way to production. It’s a long road, sometimes many years and the feeling of being able to steer the ship in the right direction to reach its destination is quite gratifying. I enjoy having the bigger picture of the show both creatively and on the business side, Mostly I get to utilise all my personal qualities and skills in my work.

Mad Men

What single action most helped you to become a showrunner/producer?

When I started producing I had no relevant credits in TV. What I did have is great knowledge in story development. I knew that I needed to find IP (in my case scripted formats) to have an asset that buyers would be interested in. But securing IP seemed like a tough task given that I would be competing with big entities like international distribution companies that have both more overhead and resources to succeed in the IP game. But I had one advantage – story skills. So I could identify the right IP for adaptation and at times even adapt it myself like I did for Hostages. Soon enough I was working with rights holders from around the world because they saw that my drama development experience could offer specific strategies on how to put together a US adaptation.

What is the biggest single challenge facing the industry?

There is a growing need for international shows now that the streamers are expanding into many countries. The biggest challenge for the industry is what to develop for these global streamers and how. Currently, there’s a lack of a proper creative infrastructure in many countries outside the US. It’s harder to find producers who know how to develop premium drama as it is hard to find showrunners who can deliver a season of television on the level the global streamers are hoping to get. This gap between the high demand of streamers for premium content versus the supply currently offered will be the ongoing industry challenge in the years to come.

The Sopranos

How can the industry improve diversity off-screen?

In the US this issue has been tackled in various ways including industry programs for diverse writers, director and other creatives s to find the promising talents of tomorrow. Even with programs like these it will take years to create a well functioning diverse creative environment because we have only begun to nourish diverse creators in recent years. Diversity in television has to be an ongoing conscious effort to constantly find new ways to nourish more of these fresh and much needed voices.

Name the favourite show of your lifetime?

I’m not sure there is only one title but I know that The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Seinfeld are on my all time favourite list.

Best show to be cancelled too soon?

There was a great show on FX years ago called Terriers. It was fantastic but probably premature for its time.

Which show nailed its finale and why?

Mad Men. It delivered on every level but mostly completed the journey of Don Draper true to his character and the DNA of the show. I loved Don Draper’’s personal journey of longing for a connection which brings him to a self-help retreat that uses principles of transcendental meditation to attempt to attain inner peace. He ends up finding much more than that – an idea for a Coca- Cola ad that presumably will make him the top ad exec again.

What has been your proudest moment in the industry?

I’ve had a few of them now. Producing Tehran and seeing it became a global hit via Apple TV. I’m now under a first look deal with Apple TV and it’s definitely my proudest and biggest career achievement. The other one is making Your Honor with Bryan Cranston. A show that was born out of an Israeli format and became one of the best drama series I’ve ever seen.

Soo Hugh and Alon Aranya recently spoke at MediaXchange’s virtual webinar series, Showrunners Breaking The Mould. MediaXchange’s next series, Make It In America, provides deep insights into the US scripted market by offering a first-of-its-kind, virtual programme of detailed informational sessions and tailored one-on-one meetings with key industry buyers and producers. Speakers include producer & analyst Evan Shapiro, Tehran’s Alon Aranya & Quan Phung, SVP of originals at Topic Studios. Click here for more info.

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