Sunday, May 18, 2014

What do all those goofy credits mean?

Here's one of those Friday Questions worth an entire post. As always, if I can't find an appropriate picture I put up one of Natalie Wood.
sonderangerbot asks:

Ken, I'd be interested to know what the difference is between the different writing credits you see on a show; you have your staff writers, story editors, creative consultants (which I think you described once in a post as authorities doing basically nothing) etc etc , could they all be that useful?

Here's the short answer: they're all bullshit. At least in half-hour comedy. There's actually only one meaningful title and that is "Show runner" and it's also the only title you’ll never see.

Originally if you created and ran a show you got a coveted Producer credit. Everybody else had to settle for Story Editor or (for the newbies) Staff Writer.

Only producers were entitled to Emmys if their show won Best Comedy. And along with the prestige (chicks dig dem producers), the titles helped establish pay grades.

So everyone wanted in on that action. (And by everyone I mean ME.)

The show runners were promoted to the made-up title of Executive Producer and Story Editors became Producers.

Then writing staffs grew. More bogus titles were needed. That led to Co-Executive Producer, Supervising Producer, Co-Producer, Executive Story Editor, Executive Script Consultant.

And then there were the punch-up guys, writers who helped out once or twice a week, usually on re-write nights. The spiffy title of Creative Consultant was dreamed up for them. But even they started getting into the act. There are now Consulting Producers. Soon there will be Consulting Executive Producers, Consulting Supervising Producers, Consulting Co-Supervising Co-Executive Story Producers.

And now you also have the non-writing producers and managers who take ersatz producer credits.

In general, the Executive Producer is the show runner and his second in command is the Co-Executive Producer. Everyone else is just on staff. They do the same job they did when they were Script Captains or Executive Story Wage Slaves.

The only exception to this producer alphabet soup is the “Produced by” credit. That always goes to the person who is in charge of the production, hiring crews, supervising post production, and overseeing budgets. In other words, unlike everyone else who has the credit, this person actually PRODUCES the show.


Chris said...

Friday question: I never knew what happens to a rejected pilot. Can't you pitch it the next year or a couple of years from when it got shot down? I mean, if you think the idea is good enough to write a pilot and try to make a show out of it, wouldn't you want to keep trying? Has this ever happened or do people just move on and never look back? And if so, why?

Canda said...

Excellent analysis of the Producer credit. The TV Academy should eliminate anyone from receiving an Emmy who has a Producer credit (like Consulting Producer) if they don't work full-time on the show. That will get rid of the ludicrous Consulting Producer credit.

Aaron Sheckley said...

Every time you explain the actual mechanics of television production, I cease being amazed at the sheer amount of dreck being produced by Hollywood and I marvel that anything gets produced at all.

Michael said...

I believe it was in their last film, a horrible misfire called Atoll K, that Laurel and Hardy explained this. Hardy doled out titles to everyone but Laurel, who was disturbed by this, and then Hardy had an idea. He told Laurel, "You will be the people!"

I worked at a newspaper that went bankrupt. A great reporter there before me asked for a raise. The publisher said he'd do his best. A few days later, he offered the reporter the title of "associate editor." The reporter was thrilled. A few days later, he looked at the managing editor and said, "I blew the pay raise, didn't I?" I thought it was funny until I was full-time, deserved a raise, and was given the title of news editor instead.

Phillip B said...

The final credits of David Mamet's film "State and Main" have the line -

"A list of Associate Producers of this film is available upon request"

Scooter Schechtman said...

With sydicated reruns,those are the credits that get squeezed into a corner while another steaming coil of advertising is shoved down our throats. They'll also start the next episode while the old credits are still rolling. Does Chuck Lorre know his hilarious vanity cards are often turned into microfiche?

Brian said...

A Friday question: I believe you wrote the Cheers episode "The Last Angry Mailman" in which Cliff handcuffs himself in the house because he doesn't want to sell it. When Norm cuts a post with a chainsaw to free him, the house comes crashing down. Can you describe how the crash was orchestrated? Was it in front of a live audience? Was it done in one take? It looked huge, loud and messy!

Kaleberg said...

I just saw the movie The Neighbors and noticed a credit for a confidentiality administrator and a bunch of confidentiality assistants. I checked IMDB, but the only other movie with this title was one of the new Star Trek movies. So, I checked the confidentiality administrators filmography, and he seemed to have done a bit of work as a security coordinator. Is this what he got instead of a raise? Will we be seeing more of these confidentiality administrators in the future, followed by executive confidentiality consultants and the like?

Brian Phillips said...

I may have posted this here before, but Ernst Lubitsch said (I'm going from memory), according to Max Wilk's book, "The Wit and Wisdowm of Hollywood":

"When the transition was made from silents to sound pictures, huge meetings were held. They gathered all of the actors and said, 'Actors, you will have to learn how to act. You need to enunciate, be aware of mics. No more mugging for the camera and mouthing your lines.' The actors that could make the transition did and the others that could not, fell by the wayside.

Then they got the directors together and said, 'You are now movie directors. You can no longer just be traffic cops. You have to pay attention to WHERE people are when they talk and you must learn how to tell stories visually as well as verbally.' I needn't tell you who made the cut and who did not.

Then they spoke to the writers. 'Writers, you have to write. You can no longer rely on simple stage direction, you must learn about dialog, how it sounds as well as how important it is to the story. Within months your world has changed from pantomime to theater.' And again, those who could not write to accommodate sound lost their jobs.

There was one group, however, that survived. The producers NEVER LOST A MAN. That is where the talent lies."

Johnny Walker said...

For anyone's who's interested, I've read in several places that the order goes like this:

Staff Writer (beginner)
Story Editor
Supervising Producer
Co-Executive Producer (second in command)
Executive Producer (showrunner)

If you're kept on at the end of the season, you'd expect to move up these ranks at least one place. Whether or not you get a pay bump, I don't know.

(Can anyone confirm if that's right?)

Kate said...

In hour-long drama, a consulting producer can be in the room every day and even write scripts or sit in post watching cuts. The title is a workaround -- usually the consulting producer's rate is too spendy for the show's budget, and they can't take less $$ (or a lower title) without affecting their rate & title for the next job. So instead they take the consulting producer title, which is considered outside the established track, for some amount of money that fits in the show's budget but doesn't adversely affect that writer's rate going forward.

Baylink said...

I'd been told, Ken, that a lot of this had to do with two other things:

"Staff Writer" interacting badly with Writers' Guild rules -- specifically the 'how many writers are allowed on a script' rule (story editor and such were sort of parking spaces to put your staff writers when they weren't on a specific script), and Writer credits being below-the-line, where producer credits were above-the-line, with their own relevant effects on union rules and pay grades; can you confirm or deny any of that?

Lisa Pope said...

Friday Question

Hey Ken,

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip 2006-2007, Mr. Sunshine 2011, Go On 2012-2013, The Odd Couple 2014. When will the networks tell Matthew Perry to screw off?

Stu West said...

I noticed Robert Towne credited as a Consulting Producer on the most recent run of Mad Men. I'm imagining him coming in one day a week to punch up the scripts. "Can we have someone get their nose cut off? No? How about a guy gets run over by a lawnmower again?"

Leesa said...

Also, sometimes management people, other people instrumental in putting the deal together and the show creator also get an Executive Producer credit. It's just passive income for some people.