What is an Executive Producer?

Every job description ends with the phrase “all other duties as assigned.” The joke with Executive Producers is that their job descriptions consist of only that line! An E.P. is responsible for … everything.

There is not one definition of Executive Producer that everyone agrees with. Wikipedia says, “Executive producer is a role in the entertainment industry that is sometimes difficult to clearly define. Executive producers vary in involvement, responsibility and power. Some executive producers have hands-on control over every aspect of production, some supervise the producers of a project, while others are involved in name only.” Another web site, webgeek.com, says it even more simply. In films, an executive producer makes sure the money is being spent well, as the investors intended. “ Anyone with enough money to invest can become an executive producer. This title does not require experience of any kind, or input into the process.”

An Executive Producer is primarily the keeper of a program’s concept and vision, and the one person most responsible for the ship’s destination and the crew’s fundamental behavior and values in reaching that destination. He/she must inspire the staff with the program’s worth and the societal value of achieving success.

An Executive Producer also has to envision the future … that is, his or her gaze has to encompass both the present and the future. One major reason why an E.P. should not and cannot become too involved in this week’s program is that such a focus will squeeze out the big picture and allow the E.P. to become immersed in the minutiae of daily and weekly production. While everyone on the staff is focused on this week, the E.P. has to be planning the future, to be a year or two out into the future.

The E.P.’s interactions with the staff need to be frequent and provide inspiration, motivation, goals, and ideas. He/she should manage by walking around, parachute in, and not be in the middle of day-to-day management. He/she needs to serve as a consultant on individual stories or production problems, and help staff brainstorm. He/she needs to lead the senior staff, especially the Senior Producer, Senior Editor and hosts. He/she needs to teach staff how to have productive and cordial disagreements and to funnel their energy into positive creative results.

The E.P. also has to be the principal articulator of the vision – to the many support and management levels at the station or production company, to the network or broadcast system, to current and prospective funders and to the public. He/she is the key communicator of the program’s goals, successes, needs and risks to senior management. He/she needs to create an atmosphere in which the company “buys in” to the support of the project. He/she needs to effectively lobby all constituencies to deliver the financing, tools and support the program needs. He/she manages relationships with other producing organizations including key stations.

The E.P. has to be among the “best ears in the house.” He or she has to hear the program with an acute understanding of the vision and the audience, and how well the program communicates to the target audience. He/she also has to have a broad range of production experience so that he/she knows what is possible, what alternative and more successful means of accomplishing production or communication might be.

In a news or public affairs program, the E.P. is the principal journalist and needs to have very wide experience in journalism, knowing the rules, ethics, and practices of journalism as well as the laws and policies affecting the practice. He/she needs to assure that the program meets the producing company’s and other influentials’ requirements of fairness, objectivity and balance. He/she needs to articulate production and journalistic standards and hold the staff accountable to them.

The E.P. is the overall manager of the project, the commitments it has made, the staff. He/she should not, in my opinion, be the day-to-day manager for the reasons cited above, but should delegate to a project manager and a staff manager, holding both accountable to their stated goals and plans. The E.P. should assess the progress of the project on a regular basis, integrating all available information including ratings, marketing and distribution reports, and outside consultants. He/she needs to set the priorities for major organizational thrusts within the project.

The E.P. is the primary talent recruiter, especially of key staff such as Senior Producer, Senior Editor, and hosts. He/she needs to review and approve all hires, setting the standards for the staff. He/she reviews performance of direct reports and oversees the annual and ongoing interim performance reviews.

In concert with the Senior Producer, the E.P. creates and adjusts the format of the program and designs or approves the design of high profile recurring segments.

The E.P regularly (weekly) critiques the program and creates an interactive process where the staff is fully engaged in regular criticism and improvement of content. He/she needs to pay particular attention to host performance and be able to provide support and outside help needed for coaching talent.

The E.P. oversees creation and management of the project’s overall business plan, as well as annual budget and regular reviews performance against budget with the Senior Producer and the Financial Analyst.

In summary, an E.P.’s job is:

  • To provide the concept and vision.
  • To provide overall programmatic and editorial guidance
  • To set direction
  • To set standards
  • To relate to the outside world, marketing, finance, station relations, promotion.
  • To find money and resources.
  • To get the tools staff need to do their job and to cut through the bullshit for them
  • To inspire.
  • To nudge.
  • To critique and evaluate.
  • To perform all other duties as needed or assigned.

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