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A Glossary of Terms Used in Scripted Television Production

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

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

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 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 executive producer (EP) who owns a production company that financially distributes the show, but receives an EP credit for also having some other involvement in the conception or making of the show.

One notable example of a distributor who 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: The creator(s) are responsible for authoring a television series' original characters, and typically outline the show's overall premise. They almost 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 run it. Still, others might continue to executive produce the series by having their production company distribute it.

Developed 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. In some cases, when such title is given, the series developer(s) might also be 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 on the writing team who has since moved up to a more authoritative title.

Showrunner (also spelled Show runner): The chief job function of the executive producer, the showrunner puts together each episode, hires and fires the cast and crew, and runs the writers room. Not only do they approve the show’s budget for network and production company executives, 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.

Head Writer: A job function of the executive producer, they are usually, but not always, showrunner(s). 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, in these situations, additionally take over their former role.

Distributor: A job function of the executive producer, they may or may not be showrunner(s). 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 creator and executive producer Jenji Kohan, the latter of whom serves as the showrunner and head writer for the two previously noted shows. 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), writing scripts for one or more episode(s) over the course of several seasons. Co-executive producer(s) also 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 assigned by the showrunner(s).

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 assigned by the showrunner(s).

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

Casting By: This title refers to the casting director(s). They oversee the acting auditions and recruit potential cast members and/or episodic guest stars for the showrunner(s) to hire.

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 serving as a financial advisor to the executive in charge of production, line producer, unit production manager, and the rest of the production management team.

Post-Production Coordinator: They are the post-production managers who help coordinate the show's budget for any needed reshoots, hand out final paperwork, and put away all of the equipment, under the guidance of the post-production supervisor.

Production Coordinator: Sometimes called the production office coordinator (POC), they are the production managers involved in handing out the shooting schedules and related paperwork, as well as booking any needed travel tickets and/or lodging for the cast and crew.

Unit Production Manager (UPM): Sometimes called the production supervisor, they are the production managers who manage "the production units assigned to him (or) her" (see "Credit Guidelines for Episodic Television (Comedy/Drama)," Producers Guild of America, n.d.), such as helping to coordinate the show's budget and overall shooting schedules. Typically, the UPM supervises the production coordinator as well.

Executive in Charge of Production (EIC): They are the production executives in charge of determining the show’s budget and finalizing the shootings schedules. The EIC also collaborates with the line producer in overseeing the entire production management team.

Line Producer (LP): They supervise the UPM, and help coordinate the show's budget and overall shooting schedules with the rest of the production management team. Further, the line producer administers the salaries for each cast and crew member, and recruits potential below-the-line staff (i.e., the production designer, editorial team, camera personnel, episodic directors, PAs', etc.) for the showrunner(s) to hire. They also usually obtain the credit produced by.

Produced By: Also called Production Facilities Producer. Not to be confused with the producer titles, they are usually unaffiliated with the writing team; these producers handle physical production facilities on-set, i.e., a rope scene. Those who hold the "produced by" title are oftentimes the line producer as well.

Written By: Typically, the producer(s) or staff member(s) on the writing team who were assigned by the showrunner(s) 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(s). 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.