Television producers make sure that television shows run smoothly in all details, and take responsibility for everything from coordinating writers and performers/correspondents right down to overseeing the fact-checking of credit names and titles. “You’re always scrambling up to air time, checking information, and making sure [the show] goes right,” wrote one producer. Having complete responsibility for all facets of on-air production can be a very stressful job, and the successful TV producer has to be tightly organized, able to communicate clearly and succinctly with everyone on and off the set, from actors to directors to writers to technical crew, and they must have a gift for thinking on their feet, ready to come up with creative ideas fast under extraordinary time pressure. Television producers report high excitement and job satisfaction-these are implementors and problem-solvers who are project-oriented and love to see tangible results-despite the physical toll of the work (all report being tired a lot).
The public perception of the television industry is one of high-profile personalities, and while it helps for the TV producer to act as a dynamic, motivating force, nearly everything a producer does is known only to those involved with the show itself. “Only other producers can tell a really well-produced show. You never get any fan-mail,” said one fifteen-year veteran producer. Another was quick to add, “It’s not as glamorous as it seems on television,” saying that even the smallest detail must be checked and rechecked before a show goes on the air. A good producer should have enough of an ego to make important decisions and defend them, but should not be afraid of drudge work. Even writing text may be a part of the TV producer’s last-minute job. Most producers rise in the ranks from production assistant positions, so they know what it takes to get a show from concept to broadcast. Producers ultimately take credit for a successful broadcast but also have to take the blame for anything that goes wrong on their watch.
Between fellow producers, there is respect but little camaraderie. A number of respondents mentioned that fierce competition-even “backstabbing” behavior-was not only common but virtually expected in the industry. A final word of advice, offered by a producer at a major network: “Work hard and look out for yourself.” For those who can master it, television production is an exciting, difficult job that can be quite financially rewarding.
College course work should include English, journalism, history, political science, and American studies for those interested in going into television news production, and classes in other areas-such as drama, meteorology, or business-for those who wish to enter a specialized area of TV production. A few producers attend graduate school in journalism or film, but it is not expected. Competition for entry-level positions is intense, and many aspiring producers take any available job. In general, candidates should have a wide range of knowledge and a willingness to work hard. Any prior work experience that demonstrates an ability to juggle multiple tasks under stressful circumstances is looked upon favorably by employers. Most dues are actually paid in the form of entry-level positions, such as in production assistant jobs, where duties may be as mundane as proofreading copy for typos and making sure lunch reservations are made. College internships are heavily sought-after because they are a big advantage in securing that first job as production assistant. Aggressive pursuit and completion of more and more demanding tasks distinguishes the PA who rises in rank from one who does not.
Many producers have extensive writing experience at their jobs, and a number decide to use it as managing editors, editors, and writers in other occupations. Some break into the profession from-or escape to-magazine and newspaper journalism. A few use their industry contacts and become public relations personnel for major studios or agents for major stars.