A showrunner is the leading producer of a television series. They are credited in the United States as an executive producer and in other countries, such as Canada or Britain, simply as a producer. A showrunner has creative and management responsibility of a television series production through combining the responsibilities of employer and, in comedy or dramas, typically also character creator, head writer, and script editor. In films, the director has creative control of a production, but in television, the showrunner outranks the episodic directors.
Traditionally, the executive producer of a television program was the chief executive, responsible for the show's creative direction and production. Over time, the title of executive producer was applied to a wider range of roles—from someone who arranges financing to an "angel" who holds the title as an honorific with no management duties in return for providing backing capital. The term showrunner was created to identify the producer who holds ultimate management and creative authority for the program. The blog and book Crafty Screenwriting defines a showrunner as "the person responsible for all creative aspects of the show and responsible only to the network. The boss. Usually a writer." Los Angeles Times columnist Scott Collins describes showrunners as: Shane Brennan, the showrunner for NCIS and ', stated in an interview that: Often the showrunner is the creator or co-creator of the series, but they often move on and day-to-day responsibilities of the position fall to other writers or writing teams. Law & Order, ER, The Simpsons, The West Wing, ', NYPD Blue, Supernatural and The Walking Dead are all examples of long-running shows that had successive, multiple showrunners.
In the first decade of the 21st century, the concept of a showrunner, specifically interpreted as a writer or presenter with overall responsibility for a television production, began to spread to the British television industry. The first British comedy series to use the term was My Family, which had several showrunners in succession. Initially, the show was overseen by creator Fred Barron from series 1–4. Ian Brown and James Hendrie took over for series 5, followed by American writer Tom Leopold for series 6. Former Cheers showrunner Tom Anderson was in charge from series 7 to the final series, series 11. The first writer appointed the role of showrunner on a British primetime drama was Tony McHale, writer and creator of Holby City, in 2005. Jed Mercurio had carried out a similar role on the less conspicuous medical dramaBodies. But Russell T Davies' work on the 2005 revival of Doctor Who brought the term to prominence in British television. In an interview, Davies said that he felt the role of the showrunner was to establish and maintain a consistent tone in a drama. Doctor Who remains the most prominent example of a British television programme with a showrunner, with Steven Moffat having taken over the post from Davies from 2010 until 2017. Chris Chibnall has since taken over from Moffat. The term has also been used to refer to other writer-producers, such as Tony Jordan on Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach, Ann McManus on Waterloo Road, Adrian Hodges on Primeval and Jed Mercurio on Bodies, Line of Duty, and Critical.