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A Glossary of Terms Used in Scripted Television Production

Television Shows Are Led by a Panel of Producers. In Scripted Television, The Vast of Them Are the Writing Staff.

Television shows are led by a panel of producers. In scripted television, the vast of them are the writing staff. The person in charge of a TV show is called the showrunner, the top-level executive producer who ultimately runs the show. More precisely, the showrunner is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "the person who has overall creative authority and management responsibility for a television [series]."

"While the director has creative control over a film's production, and the executive producer's role is limited to [finances], in television shows, the showrunner outranks the episodic directors" (Wikipedia, n.d.).

Showrunners have typically created—or, in some cases, further developed—the series' original characters. Additionally, in this format of television, they are usually the head writer, which refers to the executive producer who writes most prolifically for the show.

While all showrunners in scripted television run the writers room, the other producers (to the exclusion of the line producer and production facilities producer — the latter who are given the title of produced by) attend writing team meetings but may not necessarily write scripts for any particular episode. For instance, an experienced director or cast member—such as Mariska Hargitay, who plays Olivia Benson, the lead detective in the hit NBC television drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU)—may participate in all the discussion meetings in the writers room and simply obtain a producer title that way.

Lastly, some showrunners might also be the distributor, or the individual who owns a production company that financially distributes the show, but the latter will only receive an executive producer credit if they have some other additional involvement in the conception or making of the show.

One notable example of a distributor who conceived yet was not the showrunner or a writer for a particular series is Sandra Bullock. She was one of the executive producers for the ABC sitcom The George Lopez Show, under her Fortis Films label. Another instance of this is with Jennifer Lopez, who was an executive producer for the ABC television drama The Fosters through her Nuyorican Productions tag. Even Steven Spielberg is such type of executive producer as his production company DreamWorks Television distributed Showtime's Emmy Award-winning comedic television drama United States of Tara.

Below I provided a glossary of job functions used in television production. However, the following content applies more to scripted television than it does to reality TV.

Created By: Also credited as Based On The Characters Created By, the creator is responsible for authoring a television series' original characters, and typically outline the show's overall premise. They always write the pilot episode for a TV series and usually take over as the showrunner and/or head writer, yet some creators may depart completely from a series, and decide not to executive produce the show, neither write for nor showrun it. Still, others might continue to executive produce the series by having their production company distribute it.

Developed By: Sometimes credited as Developed For Television By. Even if someone has developed a show or further conceived it from an original adaptation, this person does not receive such a title unless they have played a large role in further developing the characters and overall premise. In many cases, when such title is given, the series developer is also the showrunner and/or head writer.

Executive Producer (EP): A television producer who is either the distributor, showrunner, head writer, or an experienced staff member in the writers room who has since moved up to a more authoritative title. Executive producer(s) might also help supervise many of the other departments' personnel (i.e., the line producer, staff in the editing room, office clerks, etc.).

Showrunner (also spelled Show runner): The chief job function of the executive producer, the showrunner hires the cast and crew, supervises the writers and editing rooms, oversees the costume and set design, and approves the budget for network and production company executives. Not only do they enforce the final decisions for a TV show, but are also on the set early to tell the director how they want each scene to be filmed before editing storylines in the writers room. Typically, the head writer and creator of the series as well.

Head Writer: A job function of the executive producer, they are usually, but not always, the showrunner. When they are not the showrunner, the head writer assists them by writing most prolifically for the show. If the showrunner were to later depart from a series, the head writer would often, in these situations, take over their former role.

Distributor: A job function of the executive producer, they may or may not be the showrunner. Distributors own a production company that financially distributes the show, but receive an executive producer credit for also having some other involvement in the conception or making of the show. For instance, Lionsgate Television chairman Kevin Beggs is the distributor who bought Showtime's former hit dark seriocomedy Weeds and Netflix's current top-rated dramedy Orange is the New Black from its' creator and showrunner Jenji Kohan. Nevertheless, Beggs did not receive an executive producer credit for either series.

Co-Executive Producer: This title refers to a staff member who attends each writing team meeting, and has oftentimes moved up the hierarchy. They typically serve as senior writer(s), penning scripts for one or more episode(s) over the course of several seasons. Co-executive producer(s) might also help supervise many of the other departments' personnel (i.e., the line producer, staff in the editing room, office clerks, etc.).

Supervising Producer: An experienced staff member who had been working in the writers room as a producer and/or co-producer for at least two seasons. Supervising producer(s) also attend each writing team meeting, and usually write episodes, as assigned by the showrunner.

Producer/Co-Producer: These titles refer to the staff members who attend each writing team meeting, and oftentimes describes their level of experience. The producer and co-producer writing staff usually write episodes, as assigned by the showrunner.

Executive Story Editor/Story Editor/Staff Writer: Staff on the writing team who have yet to receive a producer title. They usually write episodes, as assigned by the showrunner.

Casting By: Also called Casting Director. They recruit potential cast members and/or episodic guest stars. The casting director(s) also help oversee the acting auditions, under the supervision of the showrunner.

Director of Photography: Also known as Cinematographer. They are responsible for choosing and setting up the electrical equipment prior to the shoot and supervise the camera personnel and lighting crew during filming. Cinematographers are often—but not always—the lead camera operator as well.

Consulting Producer: Sometimes credited as Executive Consultant. The job position is used sparingly to refer to a former producer or crew member who is no longer involved in the show but still—on an infrequent basis—consults pertaining to their particular area of expertise.

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Associate Producer: This credit is used sparingly to describe a producer who is given one or multiple tasks (i.e., helping to negotiate the budget, attending writers room meetings, supervising the editing room, handing out paperwork, booking and scheduling, etc.).

Production Assistant (PA): Someone who has just entered the industry, working as an assistant to a crew member. PA's typically receive the title "Assistant to..."

Production Accountant: The office clerk administering the salaries, signing contracts, paying taxes, and storing records of gross earnings and related finances. On large budget productions, they typically serve as a financial advisor to the showrunner and line producer as well.

Post-Production Supervisor/Post-Production Coordinator: These credits describe the post-production (office) managers who put away the final paperwork and equipment, schedule catering services for the post-production crew, as well as—when appointed to by the showrunner—help coordinate the show's budget for any needed reshoots. The post-production supervisor supervises the post-production coordinator as well.

Unit Production Manager (UPM)/Production Coordinator/Production Supervisor: Sometimes credited as production office coordinator (POC), these job titles refer to the production (office) managers who order the lighting and camera equipment, hand out the shooting schedules and related paperwork, arrange for catering services, as well as book any needed travel tickets and/or lodging for the cast and crew, as assigned by the line producer.

Executive in Charge of Production (EIC): The studio executive and production manager in charge of tracking the budget and schedules. They might also help recruit potential below-the-line staff (i.e., the production (art) designer, set decorator, hair stylists, editorial team, camera personnel, PAs', etc.) and consult on any issues that occur financially or with the schedule.

Line Producer (LP): They oversee the entire production (office) management department by determining the show's budget, overall schedules, and recruiting potential below-the-line staff. The line producer also usually obtains the credit produced by, as they often coordinate production facilities on-set as well.

Produced By: Also called Production Facilities Producer. These television producers coordinate the logistics of the physical production facilities on-set (i.e., choreography, stunts, a bird or an insect flying in the air, etc.). Those who hold the "produced by" title are oftentimes the line producer as well.

Written By: Typically, the showrunner, producer(s), or other staff member(s) in the writers room who were assigned by the showrunner to write the episode. When different people write the storyline and dialogue separately, the credits Story By and Teleplay By are used instead.

Directed By: The person who directed the episode, as assigned by the showrunner. In some cases, this might be the showrunner themselves.

For more information on television production or to register your own written television script, see the Producers Guild of America (PGA) and Writers Guild of America (WGA) websites' here: http://www.producersguild.org/ or http://www.wga.org/.

Works Cited

"Definition of showrunner in English." English Oxford Living Dictionaries, Oxford University Press, 2019.

"Showrunner." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

Other Sources

August, John. "Producer credits and what they mean." John August, 21 Oct. 2004, johnaugust.com/2004/producer-credits-and-what-they-mean.

MasterClass. "What is a showrunner: Shonda Rhimes's advice for showrunners." MasterClass, 7 June 2019, www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-a-showrunner-shonda-rhimess-advice-for-showrunners.

Producers Guild of America. "AP council credits for scripted television." Sept. 2021, producersguild.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/AP-Council-Code-for-Scripted-Television.pdf.

Producers Guild of America. "What does a producer do? - Television series." Accessed 1 Nov. 2022, http://producersguild.southleft.com/code-of-credits/

Producers Guild of America. "What is a showrunner? The pros weigh-in." YouTube, 8 Jan. 2016, youtu.be/XrK8IB2XyP8.

Screenwriting.io. "TV writer/producer credits indicate what level the writer is." Screenwriting.io, screenwriting.io/what-is-the-television-writerproducer-pecking-order/. Accessed 1 Nov. 2022.

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