How to Become a TV Producer. Wait, What Does That Actually Mean?

How to become a Tv Producer

Being a TV Producer puts you in control of what the audience sees at home

One of the most overused and misunderstood words in the Television business is the term Producer. It’s such a vague word which taken at face value could apply to just about any career in any industry.

A Farmer could be called a Producer…and so could a Chemist, a Fashion Designer or a Parent. But a TV Producer, that sounds cool and powerful even if the job title doesn’t really help to define much.

I loved telling people I was a TV producer because in a way it sounded mysterious, like I was Steven Spielberg bank-rolling unnamed projects with unknown stars set to start production at an unknown time. Great for the ego.

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At one point I recall someone asking me, ‘what the heck does that mean anyway, being a TV producer?’ and as I tried to explain it I realized the rose was falling off the bloom in the eyes of this person. That’s not to say being a TV producer isn’t incredible, because it is, and without a doubt my years in the role we’re some of my favorite during my television career, but once you understand the various roles and responsibilities it loses some mystery.

Let’s Start With the Basics

As we discuss becoming a TV Producer in this article, we are defining it in the terms of daily programming, whether that’s in news, sports, entertainment, morning shows etc.

We are not talking about being the producer for Two and a Half Men, that’s a totally different job (and pays a lot better).

In daily programming the broad title of Producer means you are designing, developing and monitoring the progress of the entire show up to and through the broadcast, including all of its elements. But again, there are various types of producers and we will explain them here.

entertainment careers in television

Associate Producer Roles and Responsibilities

This is the prequel to really being a Producer, a necessary step before getting ownership of any real piece of the programming.

Since I like to explain things with real life examples, let’s imagine for a second you are an Associate Producer on daily E! News programming. Someone else will be in charge of the entire show development, your role will be to assist them in whatever is needed.

How to become a tv producer associate producer

Associate Producers are a valuable part of the team, helping Anchors with show preparation and assisting in the execution of a Producers vision

The tasks you are handed are essential and important, even if they may at times seem time-consuming and monotonous. Expect things like:

  • Fact checking scripts
  • Working with the graphics department to design and create visuals
  • Calling sources to verify information
  • Coordinate live shots
  • Marking scripts with Director commands
  • Editing content using Non-Linear editing systems

The roles and responsibilities change from network to network, but these are the basics. Being an Associate Producer is the ideal training ground for becoming a Producer…but you aren’t there yet.

Segment Producer Roles and Responsibilities

The next step in your development to full-fledged Producer is occupying the role of Segment Producer, where you now have a corner of the programming that is all yours.

You’re the boss! (sort of)

Let’s go back to a real-world example, now you are a Segment Producer for the Today Show. As you may have assumed, you have control over a segment of the show.

You’ll know in advance that George Clooney is coming on the show tomorrow, the Producer has given you ten minutes for the interview segment and you are in control of how that will look and feel. You’ll work with the writers and anchors on questions, possibly write and develop a feature package highlighting his new movie, conceptualize graphic elements, work with the set team to create a look to the studio – anything that influences the final product of your segment is in your purview.

Pretty cool right?

Line Producer (or sometimes just ‘Producer’) Roles and Responsibilities

The world is finally in your hands!

Ok, that’s a little dramatic, but you will have creative and structural control over an entire program and support staff including editors, writers, production assistants and more.

Here’s another real world example: let’s say you are the Producer for a nightly sports show on ESPN, you know at the start of your shift how long your show will be (30 minutes, 60 minutes), the type of show it is (daily news, pre-game show, covering a specific sport etc.) and how many commercial breaks and sponsored segments you have.

After that the rest is up to you.

how to become a TV producer

Let’s be honest, I just thought this picture was funny

You will have to decide:

  • What stories are most important
  • What spot to put each story or highlight
  • How much time you will give each story
  • What is the visual presentation
  • Interesting statistics that need further research
  • Story lines that need to be covered or written
  • How to organize your production team
  • Talent assignments
  • What stories should be ‘teased’ to bring the audience back after commercial breaks

The list goes on and on. Everything that needs doing in order to have a successful show falls on your plate to either do, or make sure it gets done.

And that’s just what happens before the show. If you show starts at 6pm, you’ll be in the control room probably about 10 minutes before go time.  Most of that time will be final prep, answering any questions that come up from the staff and ensuring all the show elements are complete and in place.

When the show starts, you and the Director steer the ship. Your job is to make sure the show stays on time and is agile enough to react to changes, the Director controls the studio operations group in charge of cameras, audio, graphics and switching between all of those things.

(Psst – make friends with your Director, you need to be a solid team)

If you’re wondering what I mean by “make sure the show stays on time” it’s pretty simple really.

You will have everything planned down to the second to make sure the show ends exactly at 7:00 and ushers in the next program. The Celtics-Nets game was allotted 1:00 worth of time in your show, :45 seconds for highlights and :15 seconds on the final box score. But during the game something spectacular happened, the editor comes to you during the show and says “I need 1:00, trust me it will be worth it!”

being a successful tv producer

Working with Anchors and Reporter is a big part of being a successful TV producer

You relent, but now your perfectly crafted plan is off, you’ve added :15 seconds and will not end on time unless you do something.

This sort of thing happens 10 times during a live broadcast. An anchor is given 15 seconds to lead into a story, they take 20. A game goes into overtime and never finishes where you planned it, so now you are short on time and have to add something else. Breaking News happens that wasn’t planned or accounted for. Things change, always.

Your job is to stay in control, remain calm and make things look seamless to the crowd watching at home.

Executive Producer Roles and Responsibilities

Let’s make this one simple. The job of an Executive Producer – oversee everything, make final decisions, over rule the producer when needed and assist in the process where appropriate.

As an Executive Producer you’ll also deal with budgets and schedules and coordination between remote and studio operations…but that’s a ways down the line, no need to worry too much about that now…right now, focus on how to start this journey, not end it!

If you have questions about being a TV Producer add them to the comments below and I’d be happy to answer!

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About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.

Comments

  1. Scot Kienzlen says:

    Brian, I can relate to the photo of the “TV” cameraman ….

    Working in eastern Kentucky in the mid 80’s at the new TV station, WYMT, I was the “Yankee”. Others who’d lived in the area knew the ins and outs; that came in very handy one day.

    A coal mine strike was in full bloom. Management was distrustive of the strikers, and vice versa. Non-union workers were driving coal trucks.

    The bureau chief told me of a practice known as “tacking” as I headed to the scene. It seems that strikers would throw out nails and tacks in the path of an oncoming truck, in an attempt to flatten the tires. Both sides were bristling with home-video cameras. Tensions were palpable.

    Shortly after we arrived, the chief went into the mining office as I got the gear out and started setting up. Shortly afterward, I was warned not to wander too far from the truck; and if I had to, that I was well-identified as part of the TV crew…. strikers could be carrying guns!

    Sure felt like I needed that bullet proof vest that day!

  2. Curtis Turner says:

    Hey Brian, I would really, greatly appreciate it if you could mentor me and just give me a lot of useful advice like the type of info I’ve learned from this article. I’m a high school senior, whom is graduating early December 17th of this year and I have a deep passion for the Film/Media industry. I’ve been looking at film schools ALL OVER but my dream is to land a career with Viacom or anything top-leading TV broadcasting company. I’m very determined and passionate to do whatever is takes to be successful but I’m quite rebellious against wasting time and money, however, I’m willing to take any risks that are worth it toward my dream career. Please contact me back at your earliest convenience by email or phone call at (314) 743-6561.
    Thanks in advance,
    Curtis Turner

    • Curtis, thanks I’m flattered. I love your ambition and clear direction for your career, that in and of itself will help greatly. My first piece of advice – we have over 150 articles on our WorkinEntertainment blog, they are my best ideas so read read and read. If you have specific questions go ahead and ask and I will do my best to answer! – Brian

  3. Curtis Turner says:

    Was my detailed comment deleted? i really needed advice

  4. Madison Back says:

    Hey Brian!
    I am 23 and am super interested in beginning this journey to becoming a producer. What kind of tv though, I have no idea where to start. I’m ready to pursue with everything i’ve got. Would appreciate any type of guidance:) Thank you!

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