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Exploring Flexible Production in ‘Original Content’ Television

Lees, Dominic; Sexton, Max


Max Sexton


For many media departments within academia, the integration of theory and practice represents a ‘problem’ requiring attention (S. Maras, 2005). This paper proposes how production processes may be aligned with the poetics of storytelling and how the materiality of the television medium marks the means by which authorship originates within the work itself. Such an approach explores the causal relationships between television showrunners and producer staff and how they have defined as well as defied older methods of television production.
The role of the writer or director is not a theory about how television authorship originates within the work itself ‒ a semiotic immanence. Instead, it can be used more to map television production and its ability to be flexible in its tonalities. For example, the leap from director/writer to series producer or showrunner can be difficult because one moment you are a part of the team and the next leading it. With a shortage of SPs in the UK, Creative Skillset launched its Series Producer Programme (2015) to find and train the next generation of showrunners as the intersection between various definitions of television production and its operations. One key to success for a showrunner is not necessarily to be a good director or writer but to understand what the network has ordered. In this way, a successful showrunner must interpret the critical function of the network by setting the creative tone of the future show. This underlines the increased complexity in the relationship between a singular, highly motivated individual demonstrating leadership and reliance on a short-lived ‘media cluster’ that enacts their vision.
Recent work-flows in television production no longer assume a sequential assembly line division of labour. Instead theories of ‘flexible specialisation’ as a system of transactions suggest how a successful production team led by a showrunner/ series producer is essentially ‘nomadic’, seeking advantage from innovative programming (C. Karlsson and R. Picard, 2011). A variety of research methods is required to explore flexible specialisation ‒ logistical, pastoral, as well as the deployment of creative vision. The authors of the paper seek to demonstrate the problems of this type of research by examining ‘original content’ in contemporary US TV drama.


Lees, D., & Sexton, M. (2020, January). Exploring Flexible Production in ‘Original Content’ Television. Paper presented at Methodologies of Screen Industries Research, Bristol, UK

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name Methodologies of Screen Industries Research
Start Date Jan 15, 2020
End Date Jan 15, 2020
Deposit Date Apr 22, 2020
Publicly Available Date Apr 30, 2020
Keywords Television drama; televisuality; showrunner; Television Studies
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