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Screenwriting

What Is a Showrunner? And How Do You Become One?

The cast and crew on the set of 'Silicon Valley'; What Is a Showrunner? And How Do You Become One?

The showrunner of a television or limited series is the contractual term for the person who runs the show. They have responsibility for pre-production, production, and post-production. They wear many hats that may cover many different positions, including producing, directing, and screenwriting.

As Niceole Levy put it in her excellent book The Writers’ Room Survival Guide, “At the end of the day, the showrunner wins all the fights.” 

Let’s get into the details about what that means.

Executive Producer

Showrunners are usually listed in the credits as executive producers. They manage the show, which means they oversee hiring decisions, including directors, principal crew, and casting talent. They are responsible for the budget of the series across the entire run of the season. Showrunners are also responsible for scheduling, communication with studios, networks, or streamers, and potential distribution.

Writer

Everyone attached to the show is there to serve the creative vision of the showrunner, who will hire the writers’ room and guide the development of the series. In most cases, the showrunner is also a writer (notable examples include Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal), Quinta Brunson (Abbott Elementary), and Jon Favreau (The Mandalorian). Sometimes, there are co-showrunners, like Joanna Calo and Christopher Storer (The Bear). 

The showrunner is responsible for the creative development of the series, including breaking episodes and even writing individual episodes. They will usually be the final editor of each script. While they have many responsibilities and may rely heavily on their number two, a co-executive producer may be assigned to run the room without the distractions the showrunner will attend to.

Read More: How to Survive TV According to ‘insecure’ Executive Producer Amy Aniobi

Giancarlo Esposito and Jon Favreau on the set of THE MANDALORIAN

‘The Mandalorian’

Directing

Many showrunners also choose to direct episodes in their series—often particularly impactful ones like pilots or finales. The White Lotus showrunner Mike White directs (and writes) all of his episodes.

Acting

Another multi-hyphenate position may involve acting, such as with Abbott Elementary’s Quinta Brunson, who also stars in and writes for the critically acclaimed series. It is by no means easy to juggle show running as well as acting or directing—two positions with very little flexibility.

Read More: Why All Writer’s Should Take Up Acting

Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson) standing in front of a blackboard in 'Abbott Elementary'

‘Abbott Elementary’

How To Become a Showrunner

Most likely, a writer will have to rise in the ranks to become a showrunner. As a refresher, these are the positions in a writers’ room:

  • Showrunner
  • The Number Two (Executive Producer or Co-Executive Producer)
  • Supervising Producer
  • Producer
  • Co-Producer
  • Executive Story Editor
  • Story Editor
  • Staff Writer
  • Support Staff (Writers’ Assistants, Script Coordinators, and PAs)

Succeeding as a writer in a room is the best way to get promoted to showrunner—perhaps on the show you’re working on, such as when Shonda Rhimes left Grey’s Anatomy, and Krista Vernoff took over.

Of course, creating something that catches the attention of a studio or producer never hurts. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss wrote feature films before pitching Game of Thrones to HBO. Lena Dunham debuted an indie film that won Best Narrative Feature at SXSW and grabbed Judd Apatow’s attention. She partnered with co-showrunner Jennifer Konner to run HBO’s Girls.

Hannah (Lena Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke), and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) in a bathroom in 'Girls'

‘Girls’

Many emerging screenwriters have ambitions of showrunning their pilots, and while it isn’t impossible, it’s not common. A showrunner will most likely be responsible for millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars and dozens if not hundreds of jobs. 

With fewer television shows being greenlit after the 2023 union strikes, streamers, networks, and studios are not taking big risks on unknown talent. 

That said, excellent writing will always rise, and programs like the WGA Showrunner Training Program exist to help people climb up the ladder. Keep writing, keep learning, and keep networking—in addition to talent and luck, this career is one of perseverance.

Read More: How To Get Started as a Screenwriter


Shannon CorbeilShannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and U.S. Air Force veteran in Los Angeles with appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. She was also a 2023 DGE TV Writing Program Finalist and her screenplays have placed in various contests. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!