Watching television has been a favourite American pastime for decades. The growth of television as a popular medium has also laid the foundation for a rise in a new type of creative visionary: the television producer. Although these individuals come from all parts of the industry and manage their shows very differently, they can also be pointed to as the creative mind behind the best and the worst of television programming.
The idea of a television producer is a bit misleading because the job is not handled by a single person on most shows. Instead, there are several different types of producers who have their own roles to play and who earn significantly different salaries for these roles. The most highly paid producers are called executive producers. Often these are the people who found or created the idea for the show. Supervising and/or coordinating producers are in charge of lower level producers while the associate producer runs the set on the ground level. The line producer is the one who deals with practical issues on the set but is removed from the creative aspects of the show.
When we think of the benefits television producers earn, our minds immediately turn to salary. Pinpointing the specific average salary for a producer is a challenge. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary in 2006 was only £36,400. However, job postings searching for qualified television producers include salaries of between £26,000 to £97,500, plus benefits. Some lower level producers working on small shows and with little experience may earn that or less each year. However, many executive producers sign lucrative six-figure salary deals with networks because they have proven themselves to be effective at delivering popular television programming consistently. Producers are usually required to be part of the union which means some positions, such as line producer, will have salary minimums established by the union.
The difference in salary among producers depends on a number of factors. One factor is the demand for that genre of television. Currently, quality children's programming is in demand so a producer who can deliver ratings would earn a larger salary. Another factor is the reputation of the producer. J. J. Abrams is a good example. The success of his "Lost" series plus his increasing recognition in the film industry caused Warner Brothers to offer him a six year television production contract worth £23 million. A third factor is the popularity of the show itself. American Idol, for example, continues to be one of the most watched shows on television and earns millions in advertising dollars for its networks. Simon Cowell who produces and judges the series earns £45 million a year for his efforts.
Of course, the current approach to producing television programs is more recent. Originally, programs were produced by people in the television stations with input from advertisers who wanted to control the shows they were supporting. Part of what changed this approach was Desilu which was formed in 1950 by Desi Arnez and Lucille Ball to allow for greater creative control of "I Love Lucy." Two decades later, the industry started moving away from production companies and towards independent producers who often doubled as a writer. Norman Lear is a good example. During the 1970s, he wrote and produced top sitcoms such as "All in the Family," "Good Times," and "The Jeffersons."
Another effect that has changed the production landscape in television is the increasing involvement of a star as part of the production team. Although this clearly dates back to the formation of Desilu, the trend has become increasingly popular. Kiefer Sutherland, the star of 24, started receiving producter credits during the show's second, and Tina Fey has been the producer and star of 30 Rock since its debut. By being both an actor and a producer, these individuals have more creative control over their shows and earn larger salaries.
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