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In the United States television industry, a showrunner is a person who is responsible for the day-to-day operation of a television series—although such persons are credited as executive producers. The term is also occasionally applied to people in the television industries of other countries.
The showrunner is at the opposite end of the staff hierarchy from runners, who are the most junior members of the production team, although showrunners are sometimes (often humorously) called runners for short.
A showrunner's duties often combine those traditionally assigned to the writer, executive producer and script editor. Unlike films, where directors are in creative control of a production, in episodic television, the showrunner outranks the director.
Traditionally, the executive producer of a television program was the chief executive, responsible for the show's production. Over time, the title of executive producer became applied to a wider range of roles, from those responsible for arranging financing to an honorific without any management duties. The term showrunner was created to identify the producer who held ultimate management and creative authority for the program. The blog and book Crafty Screenwriting defines a showrunner as "the person responsible for all creative aspects of the show and responsible only to the network (and production company, if it's not [their] production company). The boss. Usually a writer."
"Hyphenates", a curious hybrid of starry-eyed artists and tough-as-nails operational managers. They're not just writers; they're not just producers. They hire and fire writers and crew members, develop story lines, write scripts, cast actors, mind budgets and run interference with studio and network bosses. It's one of the most unusual and demanding, right-brain/left-brain job descriptions in the entertainment world....[S]howrunners make – and often create – the show and now more than ever, shows are the only things that matter. In the "long tail" entertainment economy, viewers don't watch networks. They don't even care about networks. They watch shows. And they don't care how they get them.
... the moniker was created to identify the producer who actually held ultimate management and creative authority for the program, given the way the honorific "executive producer" was applied to a wider range of roles. There's also the fact that anyone with any power wanted a producer's credit, including the leading actors, who often did no more than say the writers' lines. "It had got to the stage where it was incredibly confusing; there were so many production credits no one knew who was responsible."
Traditionally, the showrunner is the creator or co-creator of the series, but this is not always the case. In long-running shows, often the creator of the show moves on, and day-to-day responsibilities of showrunning falls to other writers or writing teams. Law & Order, ER, The Simpsons, The West Wing, Star Trek: The Next Generation, NYPD Blue, and Supernatural are all examples of long-running shows that went through multiple showrunners.
In the Canadian television industry, many terms generally applied to writers are currently[update] in dispute. Showrunner is one of these terms, with many non-writing producers recently trying to claim the term, as the Canadian TV industry has traditionally been a line-producer driven industry. Many producers, citing the difficulty of getting programs financed and off the ground, look to claim the title for themselves.
In Canada, as writers and producers struggle for primacy, the term showrunner has become a football, with many writers[who?] refusing to acknowledge non-writing showrunners, and producers resisting giving producer credits to writers. Partly due to this confusion and controversy, in 2007 The Writers Guild of Canada, the union representing screenwriters in Canada, established the Showrunner Award at the annual Canadian Screenwriting Awards, partially to call attention to this fact, and to the role of writing as an essential component of the showrunner title. The first Showrunner Award was presented to Brad Wright, Executive Producer of Stargate Atlantis, and Stargate SG-1, in April 2007.
The concept of a showrunner, specifically interpreted as a writer or presenter with overall responsibility for a television production, began to spread to the British television industry in the first decade of the 21st century. The first writer given the role of showrunner on a British primetime drama was Tony McHale, creator of Holby City, in 2005, although Jed Mercurio fulfilled a similar role on the less conspicuous medical drama Bodies (2004–2006). However, it was Russell T Davies' work on the 2005 revival of Doctor Who that brought the term to prominence in British television (to the extent that in 2009 a writer for The Guardian wrote that "Over here, the concept of 'showrunner' has only made it as far as Doctor Who").
Davies explained to Mark Lawson that he felt the role of the showrunner was to establish and maintain a consistent tone in a drama. Doctor Who remains the most prominent example of a British television programme with a showrunner, with Steven Moffat having taken over the post from Davies. However, the term has also been used in reference to other writer/producers, such as Tony Jordan on Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach, Ann McManus on Waterloo Road, Adrian Hodges on Primeval and Jed Mercurio on Bodies, Line of Duty and Critical.
The first British comedy series to use the term was My Family, which has had four showrunners since its debut in 2000. Initially, the show was overseen by creator Fred Barron from series 1–4. Ian Brown and James Hendrie, the show's most prolific writers, took over for series 5, followed by American writer Tom Leopold for series 6. Former Cheers showrunner Tom Anderson has been in charge since series 7.