Fake it ‘til you make it… as an executive producer

In a feature that first appeared in Encore, The Morning Show’s Sarah Stinson tells us how to bluff it as a TV executive producer.

What do executive producers actually do?

On paper, I’m the final word for both the business and creative decisions on The Morning Show. In practice, that means being a master negotiator, split-second decision maker, business wheeler and dealer, and slightly eccentric creative genius. Think – Ari Gold meets Andy Warhol… in tap shoes.

What makes a good executive producer?

To be an executive producer you need to have a proven track record, experience across a range of different areas within the industry, an inflated sense of ability hiding underlying insecurity. Have a clear vision and make sure you have the right people around you to execute that vision (suggestion: always surround yourself with people smarter than you). In terms of personality, you need to be tough but fair, compassionate, and have the gift of the gab. Skills-wise, you need a keen business sense, and a strong commercial instinct – there’s no use making a show no-one will watch. Being well connected also helps – both within the industry, and those other key media circles (Botox clinics, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Betty Ford…).

It’s our first day on the job. What should we do?

Media types are animals – they can smell fear – so for anyone to take you seriously, you need to own it (particularly if you’re a five-foot blonde in a male-dominated industry). You make extremely important, life-changing decisions (‘do we go with the woman who has 48 orgasms a day, or the dancing donkey?’), and rely heavily on your supervising producer – the person you hand picked to do all the real work and make you look more literate than you are (thanks, Chloe Flynn) – and try to weigh in on decisions that have already been made hours beforehand while you were busy running off a hangover. Then you read through the guest list to work out who you’re going to have a chat to, check the cooking segments to work out what you’re going to have for breakfast, then head down to the control room where you’re surrounded by a million buttons (none of which you know what they do, nor are you allowed to touch). Pop down to hair and makeup for a quick fix after a big night. Then start thinking about tomorrow’s show where you do it all again. And of course there’s inevitably an after-work function where you ‘network’ your way to your next hangover.

What’s it like dealing with celebrities every day?

Celebrities are just like you and me. Except they’re rich, famous, and have other people to do the stuff they don’t want to do. I’ve always worked with great people – really down to earth, absolute dreams to work with.

However, I have learned a few things NEVER to say to a celeb: ‘My parents are huge fans.’ ‘I remember watching you when I was at school.’ ‘You look tired – are you OK?’ and ‘yeah sure, take that time off – I’m sure XX will be happy to fill in’.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

As someone creatively minded who failed maths at school (to the point where I was the only person in Year 10 not allowed to study it), the business side of things can be a tad confusing.

Spreadsheets, variants, overage, underage, unbudgeted expenditure, YTD, PPS, EPS, EBIT… it’s so easy to get bogged down in jargon, but I’ve worked out all you need to know is red on graph = BAD, blue = GOOD (NB: this theory goes out the window when the colour printer doesn’t work). When the buck stops with you, you have to have a thick skin, and be prepared for streams of abuse at any given time from various areas of the organisation.

What’s the best part about your job?

TV is the perfect medium for me because it’s fast, creative, fun – and every day is a blank canvas. Basically I sit around watching TV, talking about topics I’m interested in, and having fun – and somehow a show gets made. I also genuinely enjoy the business side of it – the rebel in me loves doing what I’ve been told can’t be done.

Sarah Stinson is The Morning Show executive producer on Seven. She will be joining Larry Emdur and Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes for a Google Hangout at 3pm this afternoon. #AskLazNSarah

This feature first appeared in the tablet edition of Encore. To download click on the links below.


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