Yes, Showrunner AI is terrible – but it could be the future of TV

Images from an AI-generated South Park made by The Simulation Showrunner AI
(Image credit: The Simulation)

Love it or hate it, text-to-video AI art appears to have taken another big leap forward. VR studio Fable's The Simulation project has created Showrunner AI, which appears to be able to generate complete television episodes based on a short text prompt and even to allow a viewer to put themselves in the show. 

Like with even some of the best AI art generators, initial results using South Park as an example are weird, clunky and almost unwatchable. Alas, it's probably the future of television.

Fable CEO Edward Saatchi, formerly of Oculus Story Studio, says that Showrunner AI allows users to submit image and voice samples and then type in a one- or two-sentence prompt to generate an entire TV episode featuring a character based on their looks and voice. 

His company has demonstrated the tech's abilities in a research paper using perennial AI favourite South Park as an example, inviting several journalists to submit their voices to appear in episodes and also generating an episode featuring Tom Cruise and Elon Musk. The episodes were generated and edited entirely by AI, from the script to the voice and animation.

The results feel uncanny, the AI-scripted jokes aren't funny, the voices of the South Park characters themselves are all wrong and the whole thing feels more like fan art than a usable product. However, it would be unwise to dismiss the tool as rubbish. Like with most generative AI, the technology is likely to improve at a phenomenal pace.

But putting people in South Park isn't the tool's intended use. The model won't be made public, and The Simulation insists that its aim isn't to allow people to steal intellectual property. Instead, it hopes to allow studios to create 'generative TV', in which viewers would be able to create their own storylines and put themselves in the show. It sounds almost like a 'choose your own adventure' book only with infinite possibilities, blurring the boundaries between television and video games.

The company says it has some trial shows, or 'simulations' in the works using its own intellectual property, including a "space exploration simulation" called The Prize, a satire of Silicon Valley called Exit Valley and "a playful detective simulation about Charlie Jupiter". It also says it's in talks with "several studios and IP holders" about using the tool to allow fans to create shows, possibility in a competitive way.

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Saatchi imagines a kind of AI syndication that would apply after several seasons of a show once a formula is established, thus allowing the show to continue running, potentially forever. “Warhol said that in the future everyone would have their 15 minutes of fame. With Showrunner, everyone may end up having their own syndicated seven-season TV show, starring them," he told Forbes. "Film and TV can become more like novels and painting— one mad artist’s vision brought entirely to screen without dilution or compromise.”

According to creative director Philipp Maas, the company is also building a simulation "where AI characters live 24/7, grow and have rich stories." He says that “for every week of simulation time, a 22-minute episode is generated of what happened in the AIs’ lives. Imagine reality TV for AIs.” Yep, if you don't find Big Brother riveting enough, you'll soon be able to enjoy the same with AI-generated characters.

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There are obvious challenges and controversies. The tech itself works (kind of) for simple animation like South Park but probably can't produce anything more complex at the moment. It also seems unlikely that studios would want to allow viewers complete free rein with their IP, even if the content is kept behind a paywall and can't be shared elsewhere.

Controversy is already rife. The development comes amid the WGA and SAG strikes, adding to fears about AI replacing actors and writers, however implausible that might seem based on the quality of the AI-generated scripts we've seen so far. Many people have also accused the company of hypocrisy for using South Park's IP without permission to promote Showrunner AI while insisting that the tool won't be used to steal IP.

Curious about experimenting with AI yourself? See our roundup of the best AI art tutorials.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design, production and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.