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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, 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.
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 chief edits the series' storylines and is responsible for writing the most vital episodes.
While all showrunners in scripted TV 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 may participate in all of 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 who owns a production company that financially distributes 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 is an executive producer for the ABC family drama The Fosters through her Nuyorican Productions tag.
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 instead.
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 and storyline. 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, runs the writers room, and communicates regularly to network executives. Not only are they constantly aware of the show's overall budget, 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 chief editing the series' storylines and also writes the most vital episodes. 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. Some may not even receive an executive producer credit, and such decision will vary from one scripted series to the next. 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 served, and currently 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 on the writing team. 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).
Production Assistant (P.A.): Someone who has just entered the industry, working as an assistant to a crew member. P.A.'s typically receive the title "Assistant to..."
Production Accountant: The office clerk serving as a financial advisor to the line producer, executive in charge of production, and the rest of the production management team.
Post-Production Coordinator: They are the post-production managers who help coordinate the 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 production company executives in charge of the sales for the filming studio and also handle all of the show's marketing materials for the network. Further, the EIC authorizes the budget after the shooting schedules have been finalized, and they collaborate with the line producer in overseeing the entire production management team.
Line Producer (LP): They supervise the UPM, and help the rest of the production management team to coordinate the show's budget and overall shooting schedules. 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, P.A.s', etc.). They also usually obtain the credit produced by.
Produced By: Not to be confused with the producer title, 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/.