In short, the executive producer who serves as the head writer.note
The longer answer is that the showrunner is the person who gives the show its tone and direction, the one who makes the creative decisions. Theoretically, the buck stops here. (In practice, the showrunner can be - and very often is
- overruled by any combination of the studio producing the shownote
, the network or service on which the show will be broadcast, and/or the advertisers and sponsors.)
The initial showrunner is usually the creator (frequently the writer of the pilot
). In this case, the showrunner will often have their associated production company appear as a Vanity Plate
in the Closing Credits
, usually right
before the studio's credit. As the years pass, the original showrunner may leave and a new one may join - this can often be a Jump the Shark
or Growing the Beard
moment. Creator/showrunners who step down from active production duties will often continue to be credited as an executive producer for the remainder of the show's run, although sometimes they will be "demoted" to consulting producer or creative consultant.
Not to be confused with someone like a go-fer or someone who goes and get things for others - this person runs the show
- Judd Apatow: Freaks and Geeks (jointly with co-creator Paul Feig), Undeclared
- Danny Arnold: Barney Miller
- Donald P. Bellisario:
- NCIS: Los Angeles: Shane Brennan
- NCIS: New Orleans: Gary Glasberg and Mark Harmon
- Rick Berman and Brannon Braga: Star Trek: Enterprise (Seasons 1-3)
- Steven Bochco: Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue
- Stephen J. Cannell: The Rockford Files, The A-Team, The Greatest American Hero (and most of his other series, in fact)
- David Chase: The Sopranos.
- Marc Cherry: Desperate Housewives
- David Greenwalt: Angel (Seasons 1-3. Co-creator with Joss Whedon, who remained on as writer and executive producer throughout all five seasons, but never became showrunner, even after Greenwalt left to work on Miracles.)
- David X. Cohen: Futurama, (Co-creator with Matt Groening)
- Marta Kauffman & David Crane: Dream On, The Powers That Be, Friends (Seasons 1-3, though they remained involved as producers and occasional writers throughout the rest of the series.), Veronica's Closet.
- Larry David (seasons 1-7), and Jerry Seinfeld (seasons 8 & 9): Seinfeld (Larry David was the sole showrunner throughout most of it's run. When David left after season 7, co-creator and star Jerry Seinfeld became the showrunner for the last two seasons.)
- Tina Fey: 30 Rock. Also plays a showrunner on the show.
- Bryan Fuller: Pushing Daisies
- Larry Gelbart: M*A*S*H (seasons 1-4) and the one-season shows Roll Out (1973, with Gene Reynolds) and United States (1980, co-creator to Gary Markowitz).
- Matt Groening, James L. Brooks & Sam Simon: The Simpsons (season 1 and 2)
- Hart Hanson: Bones (seasons 1 to 10)
- Dan Harmon: Community (seasons 1-3; reinstated in season 5)
- Paul Henning: Petticoat Junction (beginning of season 1), The Beverly Hillbillies
- Buck Henry: Get Smart. (co-creator Mel Brooks had little involvement with the series after the pilot)
- Stephen Hillenburg: SpongeBob SquarePants during its first three seasons.
- Mitchell Hurwitz: Arrested Development
- David E. Kelly: Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Legal
- Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino: Avatar: The Last Airbender and its Sequel Series The Legend of Korra.
- Eric Kripke: Supernatural (seasons 1-5), Revolution
- Norman Lear: All in the Family, Maude, Sanford and Son.
- Howard Leeds: Small Wonder
- Ryan Murphy , Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan (collectively known as RIB): Glee
- Carl Reiner: The Dick Van Dyke Show
- Shonda Rhimes: Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice.
- Gene Roddenberry:
- Shawn Ryan: The Shield
- Dan Schneider: iCarly, Drake & Josh, and Victorious
- Sidney Sheldon: The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Nancy (1970-71)
- Amy Sherman-Palladino: Gilmore Girls (seasons 1-6)
- Paul Simms: NewsRadio
- David Simon: The Wire and The Corner (He also wrote the book on which Homicide: Life on the Street was based, and later joined the writing staff.)
- Jay Sommers: Green Acres (almost invariably with Dick Chevillat as co-writer)
- Aaron Sorkin: Sports Night, The West Wing (Seasons 1-4), Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, The Newsroom
- J. Michael Straczynski: Babylon 5
- Kurt Sutter: Sons of Anarchy
- Jeri Taylor: Star Trek: Voyager (jointly with co-creator Michael Piller for seasons 1-2; left after season 4)
- Heidi Thomas: Call the Midwife
- Matthew Weiner: Mad Men
- Dick Wolf: Law & Order
- Joss Whedon: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (except for season 6) and Dollhouse
- Bruno Heller: The Mentalist, Rome.
- Vince Gilligan: Breaking Bad, and (with Peter Gould) Better Call Saul.
- Jeff Marsh and Dan Povenmire: Phineas and Ferb.
- Glen and Les Charles: Cheers for Seasons 1-2. (co-created with James Burrows, who was a director and not involved with the actual writing process)
- Nell Scovell: Sabrina the Teenage Witch (season 1 only)
- Greg Daniels: King of the Hill - Seasons 1 & 2 (co-created with Mike Judge), The Office (US) (Seasons 1-4 & 9)
- Alfred Gough & Miles Millar: The Strip, Smallville (seasons 1-7), Charlie's Angels 2011 revival series
- Carter Bays & Craig Thomas: How I Met Your Mother
- David Crane & Jeffery Klarik: The Class, Episodes.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen; Jed and Maurissa became the showrunners along with Jeffrey Bell.
- Bill Lawrence: Scrubs and Cougar Town.
- Tracy Torme: Sliders (co-created with Robert K. Weiss)
- Matt Williams: Roseanne (left after season 1 due to Creative Differences with Roseanne Barr) and Home Improvement (with co-creators Carmen Finestra and David McFadzean)
- Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss: Sherlock.
- Terry Nation: Survivors and Blake's 7.
Showrunnners Who Took Over Existing Shows
- Doctor Who:
- The Simpsons:
- Al Jean & Mike Reiss: Seasons 3 & 4.
- David Mirkin: Seasons 5 & 6.
- Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein: Seasons 7 & 8.
- Mike Scully: Seasons 9 through 12.
- Al Jean: Season 13 to present.
- Gene L. Coon assumed the role of showrunner from Gene Roddenberry after the initial batch of episodes from the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series, starting with "Miri", and he continued in this role until halfway through season 2 ("Bread and Circuses" was his last episode as Producer). He actively produced nearly half of the show's 79 episodes, more than anyone else. He was replaced for the rest of the second season by writer/director John Meredyth Lucas, who left only because Gene Roddenberry was supposed to come back the following season, though he ultimately did not. Notably, both Coon - under the pseudonym "Lee Cronin" - and Lucas continued to write (and in the latter's case, direct) for the show even after having stepped down as showrunner. Journeyman producer Fred Freiberger became showrunner for the third season (often referred to as the turd season), and became the scapegoat for all its problems.
- Ira Steven Behr took over Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from Season 3 onwards, leading to much facial hair growth.
- Maurice Hurley took over from Gene Roddenberry as showrunner late in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, officially starting with the episode "Coming of Age". He would later take over as showrunner for the second series of Baywatch Nights.
- Michael Piller became the showrunner for the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and held the role for the rest of its run. He also acted as showrunner for the first two seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and then joint showrunner (with Jeri Taylor) of the first two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager.
- Brannon Braga became the showrunner of Star Trek: Voyager for seasons 5-6, departing in season 7 to develop Star Trek: Enterprise. Like Freiberger before him, he became a major scapegoat, and is often blamed for all of the problems with the show's creative direction throughout its entire run.
- Kenneth Biller became the final showrunner for Star Trek: Voyager in season 7.
- Manny Coto took over primary showrunning duties from Rick Berman and Brannon Braga in the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise, replacing Braga as executive producer. Although season 4 was generally considered the best one, it was too late to save the show from cancellation.
- Writer/Actor Paul Lieberstein, for seasons 5-8 of The Office (US).
- Writer/executive producer Sera Gamble worked as showrunner for Supernatural on Seasons 6 and 7.
- Jeremy Carver took over from Gamble starting with Season 8.
- Neal Baer became showrunner of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for season 2, replacing original showrunner Robert Palm, and remained in that position for eleven seasons, the longest tenure in franchise history.
- Warren Leight replaced Baer as showrunner from season 13 onward.
- Rene Balcer assumed the role of showrunner for the original Law & Order twice: once in the late '90s, and again in the late noughties. In both cases, he left to helm a spinoff as the initial showrunner: First Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and then Law & Order: Los Angeles.
- When Marti Noxon was promoted to executive producer for Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she also became showrunner for that season, since Joss Whedon was initially preoccupied with the creation of a single episode ("Once More With Feeling"), as well as prepping Firefly.
- After David Greenwalt left Angel, Jeffrey Bell took over as showrunner for the final two seasons. note
- Following the Charles Brothers stepping out of the showrunners' positions on Cheers, they were followed by:
- Season 3: Ken Estin and Sam Simon
- Seasons 4-7: David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee
- Seasons 8-10: Cheri Eichen, Bill Steinkellner and Phoef Sutton
- Season 11: Dan O'Shannon and Tom Anderson
- Gene Reynolds (season 5), and Burt Metcalfe (seasons 6-11): M*A*S*H (Creator Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds were the co-producers of the show for the first four seasons; when Gelbart departed after season 4, Reynolds took over for the fifth season, and after he too departed, Burt Metcalfe took over after previously being the show's associate producer up till then).
- When Friends creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane stepped down as showrunners to work on their new show Veronica's Closet, they were followed by:
- Season 4: Michael Borkow
- Seasons 5 & 6: Adam Chase
- Season 7: Wil Calhoun
- Seasons 8-10: Shana Goldberg Meehan & Scott Silveri
- When Sabrina the Teenage Witch creator Nell Scovell stepped down after season 1, the showrunners were:
- Seasons 2-4: Miriam Trogdon
- Seasons 5 & 6: Bruce Ferber
- Season 7: David Babcock
- While King of the Hill co-creator Greg Daniels remained a large creative force through the end of season 4, the main showrunners after season 2 were:
- Seasons 3-5: Richard Appel
- Season 6: Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger
- Seasons 7-13: John Altschuler & David Krinsky
- When Aaron Sorkin left The West Wing at the end of season 4, veteran ER producer John Wells became the showrunner of the last three seasons.
- When Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar left at the end of season 7, Todd Slavkin, Darren Swimmer, Kelly Sounders, and Brian Peterson became the showrunners of the eighth season. When Slavkin and Swimmer left at the end of season 8 to develop the Melrose Place 2009 revival series, Sounders and Peterson became the sole showrunners for the last two seasons.
- Bill Lawrence was nominally the sole showrunner for the first eight seasons of Scrubs, though shared his duties with several other writers, most notably the duo of Garrett Donovan and Neil Goldman. For the heavily Re Tooled ninth season Lawrence mostly stepped away from the show in order to focus on Cougar Town, leaving Josh Bycel to take over as showrunner.
- Jay Sommers: Petticoat Junction (season 2 and very little thereafter)
- After Tracy Torme was forced out of the showrunner's role on Sliders, he was replaced by David Peckinpah for Seasons 3 and 4. Peckinpah in turn was fired at the end of Season 4, and replaced by Bill Dial for the fifth and final season.
- Donald P. Bellisario was forced out of the showrunner position at NCIS by CBS after Season 4. He was replaced by Shane Brennan for Seasons 5 through 7. Gary Glasberg took over as showrunner in Season 8.
- Howard Gordon took over the showrunners' role from 24 creators Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow at the start of Season 5.
- SpongeBob SquarePants had three showrunners replacing Hillenburg after the first movie. From Fear of a Krabby Patty to What's Eating Patrick (between 2005-2015), Paul Tibbitt was the showrunner. Starting with Patrick The Game, Marc Ceccarelli and Vincent Waller are the current showrunners, according to Waller. It should be noted that all three of them have a supervising producer credit rather executive producer (although Tibbitt got promoted to that position in season 6 and remains there until he left the show after season 9).
Shows Where the First Showrunner Was Not the Creator
- In general, most Japanese Anime aren't created by a sole individual but by of production committees. The staff credit commonly written as Series Composition (sometimes head writer or story structure depending on translations) is the equivalent of a show runner. There are exceptions of course.
- Lost is a hybrid as far as the creator/showrunner classification is concerned. Created/showrun by J. J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof (Jeffrey Lieber, who shares "created by" credit, had nothing to do with the show after writing the original pilot script) and run since early on by Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.
- Doctor Who, which has only had a 'showrunner' position since the 2005 revival. Created primarily by Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert, Donald Wilson and C. E. Webber. The original series may be said to have divided the showrunner's duties between the producer and the script editor; sometimes the former (eg. John Nathan-Turner from 1980 to the cancellation) or the latter (eg. Douglas Adams, 1979; Andrew Cartmel, 1987-89) seemed to have more of the role.
- Likewise, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures were both technically created by Russell T. Davies, but the initial showrunners were Chris Chibnall and Phil Ford respectively. Davies later took full control of Torchwood starting with its third series (though apparently handed a lot of his duties over to Jane Espenson for Torchwood: Miracle Day), while Ford remained showrunner on The Sarah Jane Adventures for its entire run.
- Big Finish Doctor Who, the audio series, had Gary Russell as its showrunner until 2009, when Nicholas Briggs (the voice of the Daleks) took over the role.
- An odd example in Wizards of Waverly Place: The show's creator, Todd J. Greenwald, was a staff writer and producer for the show's entire run, but he was never the showrunner - that honour went to Peter Murrieta for the first three seasons. Even when Murrieta left before the fourth season, Greenwald still did not become the showrunner.
- Edward Allen Bernero wasn't the creator of Criminal Minds, but was its showrunner from the pilot to the end of the sixth season.
- If a film series can count, producer David Heyman is essentially the showrunner of the Harry Potter movie franchise. Directors come and go and Heyman is often the one who selects them.
- "Showrunning" duties on Star Trek: The Animated Series were divided between story editor D.C. Fontana and animation director Hal Sutherland; Gene Roddenberry, despite receiving creator credit, had no involvement with the series (though he was listed as the "Executive Consultant", in a harbinger of things to come).
- Tim Minear ran Joss Whedon's Firefly.
- Wings was created by the trio of David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee, with David Hackel being the showrunner for the first five seasons. After Hackel left, he was replaced by a three-man showrunner team consisting of Howard Gewirtz, Ian Gurvitz and Mark Reisman.
- Frasier was also created by Angell, Casey and Lee, but Chris Lloyd was the showrunner in seasons 1-7, Dan O'Shannon was the showrunner in seasons 8-10, while Lloyd retuned in season 11, this time co-running with Joe Keenan. Lee was the most involved out of the creator trio, frequently directing episodes of the show, while Casey and (until his death during 9/11) Angell's role was mostly limited to consulting on storylines.
- ER was created by well known science fiction author/screenwriter Michael Crichton. The showrunners were:
- Seasons 1-3: John Wells (though he remained on as a producer and writer)
- Seasons 4-6: Lydia Woodward
- Seasons 7-9: Jack Orman
- Seasons 10-15: David Zabel
- While Charmed was created by Constance M. Burge, Brad Kern was showrunner throughout all eight seasons. However, Burge remained on as writer and executive producer throughout the first two seasons before leaving at the end of season 2 due to creative differences with Kern.
- Showtime's Dexter was created by James Manos Jr., with the showrunners being:
- Seasons 1-4: Clyde Phillips
- Season 5: Chip Johannessen
- Seasons 6-8: Scott Buck
- Power Rangers is a little complicated in this department. The show (disregarding its Japanese progenitor, Super Sentai) was created by the duo of Haim Saban and Shuki Levy. However Levy mostly ran the show for the first 4 and half seasons, taking more of a hands off approach around the second half of Turbo, leaving the show to producer John Tzachor and story editor Judd Lynn. Disney would have a rotation of show runners.
- Shuki Levy: Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Power Rangers Zeo, Power Rangers Turbo (first half)
- Judd Lynn: Power Rangers Turbo (second half), Power Rangers in Space, Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, Power Rangers Time Force, Power Rangers RPM (second half), Power Rangers Dino Charge
- Amit Bhaumik: Power Rangers Wild Force
- Anne Austen and Douglas Sloan: Power Rangers Ninja Storm, Power Rangers Dino Thunder
- Bruce Kalish: Power Rangers S.P.D., Power Rangers Mystic Force, Power Rangers Operation Overdrive, Power Rangers Jungle Fury
- Eddie Guzelian: Power Rangers RPM (first half)
- Jonathan Tzachor: Power Rangers Samurai, Power Rangers Mega Force
- The creator credit on Highlander: The Series went to producers Bill Panzer and Peter Davis, with Kevin Droney acting as the showrunner for the first season, and then David Abramowitz taking over the role for the rest of the show's run. Abramowitz was also showrunner for the spin-off series Highlander: The Raven.
- Adventure Time: Pendleton Ward was credited as co-producer in the first two seasons, whereas Fred Seibert (head of Frederator Studios, who co-own the rights to the show) and Derek Drymon were the showrunners. After Drymon left, Ward was promoted to co-showrunner in season 3, but has since stepped down and writer/storyboard artist Adam Muto has taken his place.
- Creators Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts had no real involvement in the original version of Charlie's Angels after the 90-minute Pilot Movie. Edward J. Lakso acted as showrunner for the run of the actual series, albeit with executive producer Aaron Spelling having a fair bit of influence.
- While George Lucas and Simon Kinberg were credited as the creators of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels respectively, the actual showrunning duties on both shows were shared between lead writer Henry Gilroy and supervising director Dave Filoni.
- Lizzie McGuire: Terri Minsky wrote the pilot, which she sold to Disney Channel. One problem: when production on the first season was ready to begin, Minsky was already showrunning The Geena Davis Show. Thus, showrunning duties for Lizzie McGuire fell to Stan Rogow. (When Minsky sold another pilot, Andi Mack, to Disney Channel 15 years later, this time she did stay on as showrunner.)
- Star Trek: Discovery was created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman, but the former dropped out early in production due to creative differences, while the latter didn't have time to actively oversee the show due to directing The Mummy (2017). Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts therefore acted as the initial showrunners.
Showrunners in Fiction
- 30 Rock: Liz Lemon is the showrunner for TGS with Tracy Jordan—and is played by the aforementioned Tina Fey, the actual creator-showrunner for 30 Rock.
- Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: Matt Albie and Danny Tripp
- Almost Perfect: Kim Cooper
- The TV Set: David Duchovny plays beleaguered showrunner Mike Klein.
Long-Running Shows That Never Changed Showrunners