A showrunner is a person who handles the daily operations of a television series. He or she is accountable to the network which owns the series, ensuring that shows are delivered on time and in accordance with budget restrictions. Showrunners are also known as “hyphenates,” a reference to the fact that most of them are writer-producers, and many of them are also executive producers. The work of a showrunner is incredibly varied, and often stressful as well.
People who work in this aspect of television production are incredibly diverse. Not only do showrunners have creative talent, they are also skilled managers, who are able to be versatile in their daily work. A showrunner might spend a few days, for example, working on a script while discussing nuances of the show with the network, and then turn to managing the cast and crew of a production during active filming. They also liaise with the network or studio which owns the production, ensuring that everyone at the studio is satisfied.
Many showrunners start out as the creators or co-creators of a show. Joss Whedon, for example, is a noted showrunner who came up with the creative ideas behind shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then proceeded to handle the daily operations. Shonda Rimes of Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice is another notable showrunner, and some other well-known names in the field include Aaron Sorkin, David X. Cohen, Lynn Marie Latham, and Seth MacFarlane.
On a long-running show, it is not uncommon for control of the show to pass through several showrunners, and a change of showrunner can be a cause for commentary among critics and fans. This is especially true when a showrunner takes over from an original creator, as fans are often concerned that the showrunner will not stay true to the creator's artistic vision. For people who are working on several creative projects at once, the use of a showrunner is crucial, as otherwise the creator will be overloaded with work.
As an operational manager, a showrunner must have a very tight handle on everything that is going on, especially since TV shows have a limited time to shoot, requiring cast and crew to work efficiently and well together. Showrunners have a great deal of creative control, which can be important for long-running shows to ensure that the show remains consistent. Showrunners are also unafraid to pitch in wherever and whenever help is needed.
Many showrunners learn on the job, often starting out as writers, creators, or producers and acquiring their skills through experience. Some training is also available to people who are interested in working as showrunners, with such training typically being offered to people who are already working in some aspect of the television industry.