What does a TV producer actually do?
April 27, 2004 9:48 AM   Subscribe

I understand that in movies, the title of Producer is mostly about providing or arranging the financing & talent for a project. How about for a sitcom? If you watch Friends, there's around a half-dozen producers of varying stripes listed in the credits. What's the role of a producer in the context of an episode of a TV series?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Media & Arts (7 answers total)
When you see "producer" on a tv show, think "writer."

It's a writing credit- executive producers are usually in charge of the entire production because the show is their idea- they created it. They have a say in casting, etc., but they are the guiding force in the writer's room, making the final decision on what characters will and will not do, and where the overall story is going. The supervising producers are the next rung down; they are more experienced writers who and watch over the wee baby "producers", who are just writers.

A producer credit can also be given as a perk to the actors/directors; they don't necessarily do anything with it, though oftentimes they will ask for it because they stipulate more involvement in the storywriting process. If you're looking for the money people on a television show, look for the producers who are named on the title cards at the end of the credits (Stephen J. Cannell, Sit Ubu Sit, Worldwide Pants, etc..) The last one listed is usually the financier, if there are multiple credit cards on the titles, the first one or two are usually the incorporated writing producers (for example, Smallville's first title card is Millar/Gough Ink- they created the show; the second is Tollin/Robbins- they developed the show and financed some of it, the third is Warner Brothers- they are the ones actually financing the entire show.)
posted by headspace at 9:58 AM on April 27, 2004 [1 favorite]

From watching the audio commentaries on way too many DVD boxed sets of television shows, I have learned that, as headspace says, executive producers are the creative forces behind television shows. They are the "auteur" in the same way directors are with movies. Writers will pitch a storyline and submit outlines to the executive producer, who will make notes and send it back for revision, eventually giving approval for draft scripts--only to then rewrite those beyond all recognition. I know with genre shows in particular, like Buffy/Angel/Firefly or Stargate, the exec. producer will sometimes rewrite the entire dialogue of the show.

On a show like Friends? Many of those executive producers have weighty responsibilities. They have to ask themselves the tough questions. For example: is Courtney Cox' vagina full of dried up twigs?* Can we pull off Joey--as a serial rapist? (*Yes, I took the time to check IMDB, and the person alleged to say these things, while portrayed in the court documents as a writer, gets an exec. producer credit)
posted by jbrjake at 10:34 AM on April 27, 2004

You might find useful info in this thread about movie producers (and no, I'm not calling double post)
posted by TimeFactor at 12:08 PM on April 27, 2004

To expand on what headspace (ably) said -- the writing titles break down like this: staff writer, story editor, executive story editor, co-producer, producer, supervising producer, co-executive producer, and executive producer. On top of that, you'll see titles like "consulting producer" - that typically means the writer doesn't work full time on the show. "Consulting producers" are often writers who have deals with a particular studio who are working for one of the studio's shows part-time while developing a pilot deal for the studio.

Line producers also get "producer" credit -- sometimes more (I believe Todd Steven's credit on FRIENDS is now co exp). But typically, the line producer gets a "produced by" credit at the top of the show. That's how you can distinguish a "producer" producer from a "writer" producer.

Add to this mess the fact that agents, managers, and talent can get "producer" titles for all of the above mentioned reasons. This practice seems to be dying down, as there are fewer slots for scripted shows on television and, as such, the studios have greater leverage in negations.

In a nutshell, stage is an actor's medium, film a directors, and television a writer's.

***Semi-Related, but mostly me getting on a soap box***

I used to work on FRIENDS many many moons ago (as a PA) and have worked with all the names mentioned it the suit, and this sounds like an attempt to grab some fast cash from a deep-pocketed studio rather than an attempt to rectify discrimination.

True, there's a lot of bawdy talk that goes on in a sitcom writer's room. This is pretty well known in business. I find it hard to believe that anyone going into that job doesn't know this. A writer's assistant position on a hit show like FRIENDS very sought after and certainly not someone's first job within the industry. It's as if a boxer later complained about being physically assaulted while on the job.

Furthermore, FRIENDS was one of the most female-friendly environments on network television. Check out the number of female producers & writers on the series and compare that to other shows on TV. They even set up an on-set nanny so working moms could stay close to their children. Despite what the language of that law suit will lead you to believe, the show was very supportive of its writers assistants -- male and female. A number of the women who were writers assistants working there have gone on to have very successful careers thanks in part to the assistance the show gave.
posted by herc at 12:34 PM on April 27, 2004

(*Yes, I took the time to check IMDB, and the person alleged to say these things, while portrayed in the court documents as a writer, gets an exec. producer credit)

You didn't check it very well, I guess. Look. She was a writer's assistant. Writer's assistants are not producers.

Amen to herc's comments. I should add that on a reality show (at least the ones I worked on), the lowest job with creative input is an "associate story editor." Of course, in the mileu, all the "writers" are are called editors, but they write, but crediting a writer on a reality show would sound bad, so...
posted by bingo at 12:56 PM on April 27, 2004

jbrjake: apologies. I see now that you were not talking about the plaintiff. You're right, I'm wrong.
posted by bingo at 1:24 PM on April 27, 2004

The role of the producer in movies can be very varied also - I am sure there are many occasions when a/the producer has more influence on the end product than the director.
posted by nthdegx at 9:30 AM on April 28, 2004

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