The showrunner is the Chief Executive of a TV series.
A "jack of all trade", the showrunner is involved in all aspects of a show from the creative, being in the writers room, to its management and execution. It is a heavy load to carry, a great deal of the show's success leans on the showrunner's shoulders as the highest ranking producer of the series. In fact, showrunners are the individuals, investors will blame for the low ratings, and congratulate for success.
One cannot become a showrunner from a day to another, it requires experience and understanding. Managing teams of people, writers, actors, producers, technicians. While a good listener with people management skills, the showrunner needs to make decision fast, consensus or not, time is often of the essence forcing the hands of the showrunner. Making the writers and actors happy is also part of the job description.
The position is complex and full, respecting deadlines and budgets on top of the story coherence, its writing and the entire production process that results from it.
The responsibilities of a showrunner are the same from a show to another, but depending on the story, the role may take a different dimension. A showrunner on an episode of "Game of Thrones" has responsibilities mostly associated with producing a feature.
Since we know we can't improvise ourselves showrunners, what are the steps opening the door to a career full of complexity and headaches, but also rewarding and satisfying.
- For starter, writing stories is indispensable, but writing stories for screen is not something all writers can do, it requires some solid foundation to tell stories conveying honest emotions. Of course, imagination is key. You may have an overall plot but it needs to be elaborated with twists and turns.
- Be part of a writing team and do not be afraid to start low as a writer assistant. If you are young, you will naturally work you way up. Being in the room with the other writers allows you to collect information on how the synthesis of ideas is taking place. You will learn the notion of writing within time constraint, how to deal with conflicts in the room, etc.
- Be a showrunner assistant. learn the craft in the room and on the field with others. You may also apply to a program such as the "Writers Guild of America" training showrunner program. Other universities with MFA connected to Television production offers good foundations for showrunners.
- Be humble and hungry, show perseverance and strength, learn how to pitch your ideas effectively.
In many cases, the showrunner is also the creator of the series, the writer of the story, the visionary behind the scenes, who also direct some episodes from time to time like Vince Gilligan, showrunner of the popular "Breaking Bad" series which had contributed to make AMC network, a staple of cables' line-up.