A recent post on show runners elicited a number of follow up questions. So this week's Friday Questions shall attempt to address them.
Bill starts us off:
If the showrunner is so important--really the most important position on a show at a given time--why is "showrunner" not an "official" credit?
First off, it doesn’t have “Producer” in the title. In addition to the prestige and additional money, only producers can qualify for Best Show Emmys. Screw titles. We want the hardware!
It used to be the Executive Producer was the 5 Star General of TV credits, but now there are so many who share that title. Staffs are larger, writers move up the food chain. And don’t forget the pod producers who attach themselves to your show and basically give notes and go home. They’re of course entitled to the same credit as the guy who works eighty hours a week.
So until a Producer credit above Executive Producer can be concocted (and all of these titles are concoctions) then show runner will just remain an under-the-radar title. Personally, I like “All Exalted He/She Who Must Be Obeyed Producer.”
As a reader pointed out, a good clue is who created the show. In most cases the show’s creator is also the show runner. But not always. There are cases when a young writer creates a series but the network won’t order it unless a proven show runner is attached. Or the creator is fired but still maintains a credit even though he's no longer on the show at all.
And you have instances where the creator steps away from the day-to-day show running but still retains his title. Confused yet? Anyway, this leads into the next question.
It’s from Mike:
When people that used to run the show but have since left the series come back to pen the series' final episode or something, do they have more of a showrunner's-type say in the final product than just an average staff writer would? Like for the final Cheers and Seinfeld episodes, the Charles Bros. and Larry David, respectively, came back for the final episodes even though they were no longer calling the shots. Would they have had more of a showrunner's-type role in that situation, do you suppose?
Yes. Whenever the creator comes back he sits in the Captain Kirk chair. In the case of CHEERS, Glen & Les Charles returned for the final half of the final season. Beyond the last episode (which they wrote themselves) they wanted to make sure that the six or seven episodes leading up to it were completely on track. It was an honor that Glen & Les asked my partner David and I to write one of the last episodes. (It was the final Bar Wars episode, if you’re curious.)
And finally, from Dave:
Ken, I've seen you answer that "what does the showrunner do" question over and over. My question is, is there anything the showrunner DOESN'T do? And are there any duties that a showrunner really SHOULDN'T do, but sometimes they do anyway for whatever reason?
Show runners do not do any actual negotiating with agents. That’s business affairs’ department.
Certain jobs are protected by unions. Show runners can’t just operate cameras or move boom mikes (unless they’re in the appropriate unions).
Show runners will tend to meddle in departments they shouldn’t if (a) they like those departments (like post production) or (b) they just micro-manage everything.
As for me, I recognize that my technical abilities are on a par with a monkey’s so when it comes to post production and set design I leave that to the experts. I may make a suggestion now and then but if I’ve hired the best people, it’s best to just get out of their way.
I also don’t hire myself to be an actor. First off, I’m not that good. And secondly, I’m taking a job away from a real actor. So I avoid that too.
What’s your question?