Many people become show runners after first working as screenwriters. If you are a talented writer, you should pursue this entry path and take as many writing classes as possible. Watch episodes from popular series and try to understand the basic components of a captivating, funny, or otherwise interesting show. Purchase books and watch videos about screenwriting and sign up for a screenwriting workshop. Consider buying or trying out popular screenwriting software to build your skills. When you think you’re ready, try writing an original script or an episode of an existing series. Keep working on your writing and ask for feedback from friends, teachers, and other writers.
Get involved in school drama clubs and theatre productions to learn the ins and outs of the field. Consider making your own short films or writing a play to obtain experience.
Many colleges and universities offer summer exploration programs in screenwriting, filmmaking, and related areas for high school students interested in working in the entertainment industry.
Talk to show runners about their careers. If you have trouble setting up an information interview or job shadowing experience, checking out interviews with show runners in newspapers, magazine, and online is your second-best option.
Finally, visit the Producers Guild of America’s YouTube page (https://www.youtube.com/user/ProducersGuild) to watch videos of producers discussing their careers and offering tips for success in the field.
Show runners are responsible for every aspect of the day-to-day operations of a television series. Their work can be divided into the following areas:
Many show runners are also screenwriters, who pitch their ideas for a show to network executives and other decision-makers. It is much easier for a well-known show runner such as Shonda Rimes or Damon Lindelof to get their ideas approved for production than new show runners or talented screenwriters. This process can take months or years for those who are lesser known in the industry.
Once a project is approved by studio executives, the show runner starts hiring the process for the casting director, director(s), production designer, costume designer, screenwriters, actors, other producers, and technical crew. They interview candidates and build a team that they believe will create the best finished product. Show runners work with their team to establish production budgets, finalize contracts with talent, set shooting schedules, create costume and set designs, pick filming locations, and address many other details.
Some show runners are very hands-on at this stage—rewriting scripts, working with actors to help them better understand the character they are playing, directing the production, etc.—while others delegate these duties to other producers, the director, head writers, and others. They pay close attention to the budget, ensure that the production remains on schedule, address any questions or edicts from the studio, ensure that the episodes maintain a consistent “voice” and tone, perform a final review of each script; and tackle many other duties to keep the production process running smoothly.
For certain series, post-production for some episodes occurs while other episodes are still being completed. The show runner works closely with editors, directors, and others to prepare the completed episodes for broadcast, while still focusing on the unfinished episodes.
The show runner has a lot invested in the success of his or her work. A well-received series results in big earnings for the studio and the potential for a higher salary and more prestigious work in the future. As a result, show runners—especially well-known ones—play an important role in the marketing campaign for the series. They work with the studio’s marketing team on marketing campaigns, give interviews to the media, and do whatever else it takes to get their series noticed.