Last spring, I enrolled in a class called “Hitchcock and Modernity.” I’m a certified Hitchcock fanatic and freely spend my time writing unassigned essays about “Vertigo” and the male gaze, so the opportunity to learn about some of my favorite movies in a class setting was impossible to pass up. Still, as I clicked the “register” button, something about the course’s title made my skin crawl. Hitchcock and Modernity. Like countless other English classes at the University, this course would be focused on a single author and his body of texts, noting repeated themes and language and analyzing their significance — but authorship in film is not as simplistic as this method implies.

Critics and academics have been looking at movies this way for over 50 years. Writers for a French film journal called Cahiers du Cinema coined the term auteur to describe a superior group of directors. Their movies would always be more interesting and deserving of analysis than those written by their second-rung (metteur en scène) counterparts, because these authors possessed more talent than just technical competence and the ability to tell actors to move around a room. An auteur imbued his films with his own personal touch, and each stroke of genius could be traced back to his other movies and the patterns analyzed for meaning. The theory was later adopted by American critics, who added a whole mess of qualifications to be an auteur: An auteur’s movies must get better and better for his whole career, he had to have a godlike command of how his story was told and surpass all the financial and creative difficulties that the other hacks working on his movie presented him with. At the end, the auteur’s movie would stand as a singular representation of his vision and innovation.

This theory began to lose steam in the years following the 1960s as other critics pointed out the flaws in the auteur logic. Choice directors like Orson Welles and Hitchcock didn’t make amazing movies for their whole lives, and any of the second-tier filmmakers probably could have made a film less bloated than Welles’s “F for Fake.” And what about the other authors of movies — screenwriters, who have just as much a hand in creating a film’s symbolism and meaning? What about women and filmmakers of color, who often aren’t afforded the same opportunities to rise above studio restrictions with their cinematic voices intact? And what about TV, where directors don’t hold quite as much esteem, and it’s anybody’s guess who will end up getting public credit for creating an acclaimed TV show? With all these inconsistencies, the auteur theory has died and been laid to rest in the pages of my film theory textbook. Well, almost.

Since “The Sopranos” kicked off the “Golden Age” of TV, the small screen has become the new hot spot for powerful cinematic authors. It’s the series’ showrunner who usually gets the auteur treatment, because he holds a role similar to the movie director. In most TV writers’ rooms, the decisions for plotting the season and formulating character arcs rest with the showrunner. Because many series feature the work of multiple writers and directors in a given season, the auteur crown goes to the person who sits on throne and makes everything happen. This logic isn’t without fault.

A few weeks ago, I talked to a high school friend about “Breaking Bad,” and she must have name-dropped Vince Gilligan 60 times. Among other accomplishments, Gilligan is apparently the man to thank for Skyler White’s amazing character development, her becoming more steely and fearless with every passing episode. Gilligan may have set up Skyler’s story trajectory and maybe written a few of the episodes himself, but a huge part of the praise should go to Anna Gunn’s strong and stunning performance. It’s a crime not to mention Gunn’s name, or Michael Slovis’s for cinematography or Rian Johnson’s directon of that awesome scene with the knife. Vince Gilligan belongs in any discussion of “Breaking Bad,” but the show is great because of the collaboration of hundreds of talented people apart from the guy whose name appears as the closing image of every episode.

Auteur logic has gotten even messier in recent years, because showrunners aren’t the only ones on a pedestal anymore. Big-name producers often dominate the conversations of their respective shows largely because of advertising strategies. People are more likely to watch a show if it has a recognizable pedigree. Shonda Rhimes, the showrunner of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” is marketed as the sole creator of “TGIT” Thursdays on ABC: “Grey’s,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder” are all fun primetime soaps centered around compelling women in high-powered jobs. However, ABC does not really care if anybody knows that Peter Nowalk is the showrunner of “How to Get Away With Murder,” and technically has as much influence in creating the story arcs of his show as Vince Gilligan has for “Breaking Bad.” ABC can manipulate viewers’ knowledge of Rhimes as a proven TV auteur — “HTGAWM” was one of the highest-rated network dramas during its run last fall, and at least some of its success is due to fans’ loyalty to Rhimes’s empire.

The showrunner is also not as infallible as he may seem, and his esteem depends upon the excellence of the team who supports him. Cary Fukunaga’s adept directorial work on the first season of “True Detective” was unlike almost anything on TV — his iconic minutes-long tracking shot and the way he and his supporting cinematography team shot the lush and dreamlike Louisiana landscape made the first season appear as something out of a Southern Gothic novel. Despite the fact that critics (including myself) applauded Pizzolatto for the moody writing and compelling characters, in retrospect, he couldn’t have been the singular auteur of that season. In isolating Pizzolatto and taking away the stunningly talented Fukunaga, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, the show’s ridiculous writing comes into clearer view. The first season also had silly dialogue masquerading as MFA-smart (never forget that “time is a flat circle”), but it sounded damn philosophical coming out of the mouth of an Academy Award-winning actor. Tell Vince Vaughn to say those same words, and … somehow, the effect isn’t the same.

Evidently, issues of authorship are still very relevant. TV fans and critics worship the cult of the showrunner, but not invariably — producers, stars, writers and directors often slip through the cracks and gain authorial status. Marketing plays a huge role in who audiences designate as an author of a show. Commercials for USA’s “Mr. Robot” proclaim that the show was created by “a producer of ‘True Detective,’ ” and early ABC publicity sells “The Catch” as a TGIT Shonda Rhimes original (then-showrunner Jennifer Schuur’s name is nowhere to be found). The new TV auteur is singlehandedly responsible for creating his shows, improbably flouting the network standards and restrictions to deliver excellent content that only becomes more excellent when it’s analyzed and picked apart for clues of the author’s genius.

The production of TV traces back to the collective work of hundreds of craftsmen, network executives and businesspeople and the audience itself — as has been proven in film, the TV showrunner is not a unilateral creator of meaning. But there are still freshman boys who toss off-hand comments about “House of Cards” featuring the calling cards of David Fincher’s oeurve. And there are still classes at the University of Michigan that operate under the assumption that one man’s singular genius was enough to override everyone else’s working on that movie, enough to make those films his.

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