How to Become a Television Executive

NBC Studios sign in Rockefeller Center, New York

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Television executives are in charge of programming. They decide which pilots get made into TV shows, which series get renewed, and which programs get canceled. Being an executive can be rewarding and potentially lucrative, though the job can also be quite demanding and highly competitive.

Getting elevated to this level in the industry takes determination, motivation, and astute networking abilities. And once an executive has earned such a coveted slot, like any greenlit pilot, they have to prove themselves and get good ratings to get renewed.

The Traits and Tasks of a Television Executive

Success starts by being well informed. TV execs need to know what’s airing on every competing network and streaming platform and who’s writing, directing, and staring in the top shows. With traditional broadcasters, plus all the cable networks, and the disparate digital providers, this can be a time-consuming endeavor.

They also have to understand the process of show development, be familiar with the overall life of a series, and possess keen instincts forecasting which programs are going to resonate. While there are several different executive jobs, the two most prominent positions—the current executive and development executive—are among the most essential.

Current Executive Role

This person oversees projects that are "currently" on the air. Working with the writers, producers, directors, and the casts of existing television shows, they serve as a liaison between the network or studio and the actual production.

A current executive's job is to make sure a given production services the needs of the network or studio, grows in viewer ratings and stays on budget. They must also solve any issues that arise, from cast changes to hiring and managing writers and directors, and ensure that each production hits its pre-established timeline.

Development Executive Role

This person works on developing new TV show concepts. These ideas can come directly from pitches from writers and production companies or from exploring a concept, genre, or style the network feels is missing from their current line up.

Whatever the case, the development executive’s ultimate goal is finding fresh material to put into production. Once a concept is in place, the exec works to get the shows developed. First, they'll identify writers for the project, then enlist a director, assist with casting decisions, and later tap additional writers and producers once a show goes from a pilot to series production.

Getting a Television Executive Job

Starting as an assistant to a TV executive is one of the fastest routes to becoming an exec yourself. As an assistant, you can learn the ins and outs from someone established. And you'll also have a chance to interact with the managers, agents, writers, directors, and producers you'll be working with should you get promoted.

  • Be a Sponge: Soak up all the knowledge you can. If you land a position as an assistant, make it clear that you'd like to learn on the job. Most executives—or at least those who don't feel threatened—will be happy to give you tips and insight. Many of them climbed up the ladder the same way. There's also something in it for them. Smart executives know that the more informed their assistant is, the more autonomous and capable they can be for them.
  • Be Assertive: Read every script that comes in, watch every set of dailies, learn the names of the players, and you'll find that you suddenly become "executive" material. And when it comes time to fill that next open slot, you may be taken seriously as a potential candidate.
  • Be Personable: This is a job in Hollywood where connections really can help you get to where you want to be. Most of these positions are filled internally through promotion or internal transfer. So, it's vital to network within the networks and studios and determine who can help you once you're ready to make your move.