Showrunner

  • Showrunner

Showrunner is more a title and a set of responsibilities given to one of the executive producers, less a completely different job. This person may be credited as the executive producer, creator, or writer-producer; in any case, his or her duty is to maintain the integrity of the overall canon of the series and keep the writing staff on task and on message.


Duties

The work is centered in the writers’ room, where this person is the chief creative voice behind each script; he or she may not write every episode, but will have a significant impact on the development of the storyline and in selecting which scripts to greenlight. He or she will also establish and maintain the show’s “bible,” a compendium of information about every character and plot twist in the life of the series. During production, the showrunner holds rank over the director and crew and has the authority to step in and make changes when necessary. He or she makes numerous design and directorial choices throughout the development of an episode to ensure that the show stays consistent from week to week. The showrunner is also a facilitator who manages personnel and sees to it that cast and crew are working effectively, while keeping to the intended vision of the characters and story.

Skills & Education

A college degree in film and television production is highly recommended, but not a steadfast requirement. What is more important is considerable experience in the development and management of major motion pictures and television series. Courses in creative writing and scriptwriting will prove helpful to the showrunner who also finds he or she is acting as a writer-producer. This individual must be highly organized, detail-obsessed, and a master of multitasking. What’s more, this is a creative role that demands a unique personality; he or she hones the vision of the entire production and helps to guide others in a unified direction—by force if necessary. Active members of the Writers Guild of America with credits at or above writer-producer are eligible to participate in a showrunner training program that prepares television professionals to make the next leap in their careers.

What to Expect

There are two ways to become a showrunner: You can spend several years building up your clout as a well-known writer of episodic television, or you can get lucky and sell a spec script as a concept and pick up a fast “created by” credit—don’t count on the latter. It is not impossible or unheard-of for a rookie to go out to Hollywood and strike gold on the first shot, but it shouldn’t be your master plan. It will take time to cultivate a list of credits and produced scripts before you work your way up to the role of showrunner. It begins with landing your first gig as a staff writer. From there, you collect bumps in status based on your longevity (and perhaps some contract haggling by your agent). When you’ve arrived at the writer-producer level, you have a sufficient résumé to begin hunting for a showrunner gig, or to finally get your pet project made.

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