“Show runner” is a moniker, all right, but the term carries many misconceptions, especially in TV animation. Contrary to its connotations, a “show runner” is not one who carries – Olympic-torch style – packages to and from Hollywood studios. That’s a “runner,” to be sure, and one of the lowliest jobs on the show biz totem pole.
The term “show runner” also is not synonymous with a particular kind of mobile phone app. No, Sonic the Hedgehog, albeit fast and sassy, is not a “show runner,” but some of his eponymous games are “endless runners.” The Blue Blur runs, and he has his own animated show, but he is no “show runner.”
Finally, a “show runner” is not a beautifully conceived, handmade tabletop accessory that is so lovely, it is a potential crafting competition contender. That is a “table runner,” and it is made for show. But it is not a “show runner.”
The exact definition of “show runner,” plus the ways that it applies to big cheeses of cartoon series, is every bit as perplexing as the above. In fact, “show runner” is so confusing, that it is the topic of a past seminar and a future event (2 gatherings, total) presented by the Los Angeles chapter of Women in Animation.
On Wednesday, April 6 at The Animation Guild in Burbank, the following experts debated onstage, to a packed house of “show runner” hopefuls (i.e., aspiring “show runners”), what it means for one to run (control) an animated show (series). Gurus included Craig Bartlett (“Hey Arnold!” “Dinosaur Train,” “Ready Jet Go!”), Chris Nee (“Doc McStuffins,” “Vampirina”), Chris Savino (“The Loud House,” “Powerpuff Girls,” “Kick Buttowski”), Nadine Van Der Velde (“Fresh Beat Band,” “Fresh Beat Band of Spies,” “Little Charmers”), and moderator Holly Huckins (“Sheriff Callie’s Wild West,” “Higglytown Heroes”).
The specialist guest stars of WIA’s “What is a show runner, anyway?” discussed several things that a “show runner” might or might not be, such as
1) Executive Producer – A “show runner” may have this title; however, EP often is an honorific (as elucidated by the astute Holly Huckins) for top tier TV network personnel who have little involvement in, or even knowledge of, the production process. EP credit also might be granted to someone who arranges financing and facilitates deal-making (distribution, for instance), but has scant interaction with character designers, background painters, or storyboard artists.
2) Supervising Director – A “show runner” may have this epithet, or serve in this function, but might be uncredited onscreen as such. However, this job description typically is reserved for the garden variety gifted CalArts or SCAD grad who oversees the look of a project from a visual art perspective.
3) Creator – A show runner may have created the show that he/she runs, but then again . . . maybe not. Chris Nee is a good example of a show runner/creator on “Doc McStuffins.” The hit Disney Junior series manifested from Nee’s young son and his fear of doctor visits. With “Doc McStuffins,” Nee attempts to change kids’ wariness of physicians in a whimsical way.
4) Story Editor – A “show runner” might manage a staff of writers, supervise a couple of writers, or he/she might write all episodes himself or herself. Then again, a “show runner” might not be able to string two words together. It is not commonplace for a “show runner” to excel at both scripting and drawing, but a few do move in this rarefied air. Craig Bartlett and Chris Savino are two such birds.
5) Line Producer – A show runner could be a physical production savant who organizes day-to-day operations of an animated TV series, but this certainly is not the case with every on-air property. Nadine Van Der Velde is a “show runner” who wears many hats, even some associated with original music composition, arrangement, and coordination (such as in “Fresh Beat Band” live action series, and animated “Fresh Beat Band of Spies”). Yet, Nadine is the exception, not the rule! On the other hand, there do not seem to be many rules that apply to the definition of “show runner.” It seems that there are far more exceptions.
Women in Animation re-enters the fray on Tuesday, April 26 at 7 p.m. with its follow up panel entitled “They said yes! Now what!?” The masters will share insight on pitching and developing a cartoon for them (i.e., a network or a digital platform; think Disney Channel Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu). Certainly, the topic of “show runner” will arise on Tuesday night and possibly dominate. As for a big reveal of “show runner” industry standard, please don’t run if the answer doesn’t show . . . As a wise agent named Mike O’Dell of BBA once said, “Entertainment industry standard is whatever anyone wants it to be.” The LA Animation Examiner could not agree more.
To join the wait list for the aforementioned evening, please visit the Women in Animation website. Headliners include Jennifer Dodge, Senior Vice President, Development, Nickelodeon Preschool; Donna Ebbs, Consultant/Producer-Writer; Cort Lane, Senior Vice President, Animation and Family Entertainment, Marvel Television; Annette van Duren, Owner, Annette van Duren Agency; and Craig Miller, Writer/Producer (moderator).