When did the term "show runner" become popular?

Wiki cites examples going back to 2005 or so, but I sure don’t remember hearing the term used more than a couple of years ago. I’m not really a student of TV production roles, and I’m not sure how far back I had ever heard the term, but it sure seems like it has been becoming more and more prevalent in the last couple of years.

In fact, it almost seems like it exploded within the last year. At first I heard about it in the discussion of whether one or two popular long-running shows would continue. But nowadays, “show runners” are almost presented as celebrities themselves.

Anyone else notice this?

Funny enough, it was exactly one year ago today that the previous Thread on the topic got it’s final reply.

In that Thread, zombywoof quotes the OED which gives 1989 as the first citation for the term:

Colibri cites Wikipedia for clarification of the term:

Most posters responding to that Thread agree they first started hearing the term in the past 10 to 20 years.

That’s a good response. I think that it’s not so much that the term became popular, as it is that people outside the industry started to know who the show runners were, and as TV developed as an art form, they gained clout.

Thanks. I’ll review that thread. I tried one search, but when that didn’t turn up results I decided to post the thread instead of fighting through the 120 second delay between searches.

Yeah, I was thinking about changes in who used the term. For example, as a viewer, I never see anyone listed as “show runner” in a show’s credits. But I’ll read the other thread.

I think NAF1138 is right, that this is a case of a somewhat “inside baseball” term becoming well-known to people outside the industry, which came about as a result of the people holding that position becoming more well-known.

“Show runner” is not, and never has been, a term that you will find listed in the credits. People in that position will generally be credited as a “producer,” or some variation thereof. But there are a plethora of producers, executive producers, supervising producers, and so forth in the credits of any given TV show. It’s likely that the term “show runner” developed to identify the one producer who is really in charge of everything.

When I was young, it seemed to be fairly rare for anyone outside of the television industry to pay much attention to who was producing a particular show. Maybe part of it was my own lack of curiosity about such things, being a kid and all, but I certainly don’t recall my parents or any other adults having intense conversations about it when MASH* or Kojak got a new producer. It just wasn’t something that the average viewer took much interest in.

These days, we all seem to be a bit more aware of the behind-the-scenes aspects of our favorite shows. At the same time, long form arc-related storylines have become more the norm (even in sitcoms), so a change in producer is perceived to have much greater potential impact on the long-term progression of the show. I think that those factors have resulted in the insider term “show runner” becoming more familiar to general viewers.

No, the title of the person running the show was almost always “executive producer,” and that’s been true since the 60s, at least.Back then, there were people like Quinn Martin and Jack Webb and Levinson & Link. They may not have written scripts, but they insisted on a certain “feel” for their shows. Look at any Quinn Martin show and you can see it fit into Martin’s formula.

One thing that confuses me is the degree to which the show runner(s) have control over the future of the show. Do they own the show? Write it? Did they create it? Do they determine the overall story arc and character development, or approve others’ ideas about such things?

Those various roles confuse me when they talk about a show like The Good Wife ending because (in part) the show runners wanted to move on. I understand how someone who is really running things and aware of all elements has an outsized impact on how a show comes across. But in just about every other endeavor (business, sports, military, government…) ongoing efforts are able to continue with replacement of supposedly irreplaceable personnel.

It’s tricky. Sometimes THE show runners is a writer. Sometimes not. Sometimes a creator, sometimes not. Sometimes they have very tight control over the show with a clear vision, sometimes not. It depends. Usually of the show runners are being talked about they are more or less auteur’s. But this is not true for all shows. But the buck stops with someone on any show, that person is the show runner.

I think the first time I became aware of the term “show runner” was in connection with The Simpsons, which has had different show runners in different seasons. (See here for a basic list, and here for some discussion/description of what different show runners brought to the show.)

Right now I’m thumbing through Marc Cushman’s multi-volume history of star Trek, These Are the Voyages. He points out that although Gene Roddenberry was always the “boss,” he also had various producers who he gave more or less complete control. Roddenberry had a long-standing disagreement with Gene Coon over the tone of the series; Roddenberry wanted a very serious military tone, while Coon was willing to let the characters engage in lighter, more casual stories. In particular, Cushman quotes writer Deavid Gerrold as saying The Trouble With Tribbles wouldn’t have been produced if Roddenberry had been actively running the show at that time. The creative differences were one reason why Coon left the show.

Yep, but not responsible for the creation and then season/s long story and character arcs. I’ve always seen 'show runner as an amalgamation of ‘creator, writer, and executive producer’.

My first experiences of the term was with David Simon on The Wire.

I never heard the term before this thread, and therefore assume it’s still not a popular expression outside of the industry.

in a book drew carey wrote he said the use of the term "show runner " started when the stars of the show started getting executive producer credit to denote who actually did the work in putting the show together

I guarantee you will start noticing it. I’m not big on the ins and outs of TV shows, but I do skim through the entertainment section of the local paper on my way to the comics, and it is there all the time. And if you ever want to go beyond simply watching a show - maybe googling if your fave show will be renewed or cancelled, the term is going to figure prominently.

I guess the imprecise definition of it confused me. (Of course, I never really knew what differentiated among all those producers.) In some cases, the show runner seemed to be little more than a clarified writer, who could be replaced and the show could continue. In other cases, it seemed more like the show runner was taking the ball and going home.

I got my kids into ST, tho they are more into it than their parents. They often discussed the difference between shows with one writer/director/producer vs others. Similar discussions about Dr. Who. I never watched closely enough to conclude whether there tended to be different personnel on the episodes I liked compared to the ones I didn’t.

Joss whedon, russell t davies are show runners that I think of. Head writers that oversee scripts and production.

Diane English was she called a showrunner on Murphy brown?

Linda Bloodworth-Thomason might be another early showrunner on Designing Women.

The term emerged in my consciousness when the fallout between Dan Harmon and Chevy Chase arose on Community.

Then I found that the Show Runner for Pushing Daisies (Bryan Fuller) had several other things he’d helmed and I sought out the lesser known ones and found they had a similar entertainment value for my time.

If you read a lot of entertainment news (I spend at least as much time reading The AV Club as I do reading here, and * much* more time commenting) you’ll see it getting thrown around a lot.

Norman Lear for All In The Family?

I remember first hearing it in regards to Russel T. Davies helming the Doctor Who reboot in 2005. At that time I just thought it was a British TV term.