Here’s how to get the top job in TV

Odd mum out showrunners bravo
Jill Kargman created and stars on Bravo’s ‘Odd Mum Out.’ Barbara Nitke/Bravo

One of the most coveted jobs in television is that of the showrunner, but the career path to that gig isn’t always clear-cut.

In short, a showrunner is the top dog on a TV show. He or she is responsible for approving everything from casting to scripts, from budgets to set designs. All the while, the showrunner has to protect the creative vision for the show.

Portia Doubleday Mr Robot set tour 2
Sam Esmial, first-time creator and showrunner on ‘Mr. Robot,’ is the exception, not the rule. Michael Parmelee/USA Network

“You have to be an advocate for the creative aspect of the show, and that’s harder than it looks sometimes, especially when I have to sign the budget every week,” veteran showrunner Remi Aubuchon recently told Business Insider. (Aubuchon has written or produced on “Caprica,” “Falling Skies,” “Powers,” and “24.”)

Typically, showrunners are writers who have worked themselves up the ladder in writers’ rooms for several television shows (that’s a whole other “how to” article). Julie Rottenberg — whose writing and producing credits include “Sex and the City,” “SMASH,” and “Love Bites” — is a first-time co-showrunner on Bravo comedy “Odd Mum Out.” Rottenberg understands what it takes to get the job.

“For so long, we were writers on shows or producers, writer/producers on a number of shows,” Rottenberg said. “And I realised comparing that to being a showrunner is basically like babysitting versus parenting. Because suddenly the baby is yours, you can’t just leave at six o’clock when it’s time. And you’re pretty much responsible for every aspect of the show.”

You might believe that if you create a great show, write a killer pilot script, and then get your show bought at a network, then you’ve earned the right to be its showrunner. The truth is that many show creators don’t end up running their own shows. In some cases, the show creator has very little day-to-day involvement in their own show.

Television shows are multimillion-dollar operations, so studios and networks would rather an experienced showrunner helm a show. If you’re lucky, that showrunner will work alongside you. (Sam Esmail, creator and showrunner of the acclaimed “Mr. Robot,” who came into it with basically no TV experience, is a very rare exception.)

Rottenberg shares showrunning duties with Elisa Zuritsky, but they are extremely protective of “Odd Mum Out” creator and star Jill Karger’s voice and desires for the show.

“A big part of our job was making sure her voice or her vision was represented even if she wasn’t there,” Rottenberg said of Karger. “For instance, we might get notes from the network, and we’d say, ‘You know what? This is something Jill feels very strongly about. We have to find a way to make this work.’ And there’s a lot of trust in that, and there’s a lot of communication often — you know, a lot of late-night calls and meetings and just working on drafts together.”

Aubuchon — whose first showrunning job was on a 2003 show he created, “The Lyon’s Den,” starring Rob Lowe — would have preferred some help back then.

“I think if I had to do it all over again,” he said, “I might have liked to have had a close collaboration with someone who had more experience than I did in order to be able to overcome some of the hurdles that occurred in that time, which mostly were political really. I think I kind of knew what to do on a skill and production basis but being overwhelmed with actor demands, working with the studio and working with the network, all of that sort of stuff is incredibly overwhelming and it would have been nice to have someone there to have helped me with that.”

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