showrunner (was Re: Re: "to executive produce")

Neal Whitman nwhitman at AMERITECH.NET
Mon Nov 10 03:54:46 UTC 2008

All this discussion of executive producers has reminded me of a term I only
recently learned from my brother: "showrunner". It sounds like the same kind
of role that Dave outlines for executive producers. Are the terms
synonymous? (Nevermind; I looked it up on Wikipedia: Short answer: yes, more or less.)

It also occurred to me that "showrunner", too, is ripe for the kind of
backformation that Arnold has written about. (I've written about some of
them, too; for example,
Sure enough, a search of some of the newsgroups turns up...

1. the gerund form "showrunning", complete with direct object. Not a
backformation, but worth noting.
with Emmy wins this season for writing, starring and showrunning 30 Rock
*alone* Tina Fey is already one of the legends of television history. (Rob
Jensen, Nov. 5, 2008,

2. The same form used as a participle in a VP. Technically a backformation,
but are there attestations of 'showrun' as a verb that aren't identical to
the gerund form? (See next item.)
It was almost simultaneously announced with October Road's cancellation that
the trio will be showrunning/writing the remake of BBC show "Life on Mars"
on ABC next season. (leto, May 13, 2008,

3. "showrun" as the base form of a verb. Unquestionably a backformation.
Ball, who created the hit "Six Feet Under" for HBO, will exec produce and
showrun "True Blood," which is based on the novel series "Southern Vampire"
from author Michael Schneider, "'Six Feet Under' creator to act as
showrunner, _Variety_, sometime before Aug 10, 2007,

4. Further cementing badkformation status: the finite form "showruns" (and
another nonfinite "showrun"):
 Probably even means that they're leaning toward one staying to showrun
[Gilmore Girls] (likely Amy, of course) while the other showruns the new
show for its first season.(Rob Jensen, Nov. 26, 2005,

5. Even the irregular past form "showran":
I thought Bob Boden showran the first season before Canter took over.
(uncamark Dec. 29, 2005,

However, that last one is a step too far for at least one speaker. The next
message in the thread asks, "Is 'showran' a word you've 'architected' to
mean produced? (chris319, Dec. 29, 2005)

Neal Whitman
Email: nwhitman at

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dave Wilton" <dave at WILTON.NET>
Sent: Sunday, November 09, 2008 3:17 PM
Subject: Re: "to executive produce"

> ---------------------- Information from the mail
> header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET>
> Subject:      Re: "to executive produce"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> The term also has a particular distinction and resonance in the industry.
> "Producer" is a vague title that can connote a wide variety of roles,
> everything from the person who is primarily responsible for a film or TV
> series to a courtesy title thrown at someone marginally connected to the
> project as a sop to their ego. So when someone in the industry says they
> are
> "producing" something, no one really knows what that means or what their
> role in the production actually is.
> An "executive producer" title, however, carries a precise meaning. The
> executive producer is the person in charge of arranging the financing for
> a
> film's production and overseeing the logistics of a production. So when
> someone says they are "executive producing" a project, everyone knows
> exactly what that means and that it is a position of significant
> responsibility and influence.
> And in television, the executive producer is even more important. The
> executive producer is usually the creator of the TV series and the primary
> creative force behind it--akin to the director of a feature film. In TV
> production, the director has a less prestigious role, usually confined to
> being responsible for the on-time delivery of a particular episode within
> the creative construct set by the executive producer and cannot make major
> creative inputs to the series as a whole.
> "To executive produce" has been around for quite a while--I've been
> hearing
> it for at least a decade and it's probably older than that.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
> Of
> Arnold Zwicky
> Sent: Sunday, November 09, 2008 9:36 AM
> Subject: "to executive produce"
> recently i've been posting (here and on Language Log) about two-part
> back-formed verbs
> ("to gay marry", "to early/absentee/advance vote", "to offshore
> drill", "to underage drink").  these particular examples are
> relatively recent innovations, and therefore noticeable (and objected
> to by many), but such back-formations have been entering the language
> at least since the early 19th century and many have become entirely
> naturalized, their back-formative origin no longer appreciated by most
> speakers: houseclean, cross-refer, hard-boil [an egg], babysit, air-
> condition, fine-tune, free associate, etc.
> now chris waigl has pointed out "to executive produce", which gets a
> huge number of web hits (in its various forms).  you can see why it's
> so popular: "X will executive produce Y" says more than "X will
> produce Y", and it has an agentive subject, unlike the paraphrase "X
> will be the executive producer of Y" (which is also longer than "X
> will executive produce Y").
> i have the feeling that this one has been around for a while, but it's
> hard to check out.  we don't seem  to have discussed it on ADS-L, and
> even things like "executive producer" ("executive secretary",
> "executive chairman", etc.) are not so easy to track: NOAD2 and AHD4
> have the relevant sense for the adjective "executive": 'having the
> power to put plans, actions, or laws into effect' (NOAD2), with cites
> for "executive secretary" and "executive chairman", but the OED has
> only the more general sense 'having the function of executing or
> carrying into practical effect', with no cites close to "executive
> producer" etc. (and of course nothing for "executive produce").
> has anyone seen discussion of this one?
> arnold
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