How to Become a Television Executive

••• FMB PHOTO/Photolibrary/Getty Images

If you've always dreamed of deciding what gets produced and what airs on television, then becoming a television executive might just be the career path for you.

There are a number of different executive positions in the television realm. But the two most commonly referred to career paths are:

Current Executives

A Current Executive refers to someone who is working on projects that are "currently" on the air. They work with the writers, producers, directors and the casts of existing television shows and 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 also must help solve any issues that arise such as cast changes, employing writers and directors and making sure the production hits its pre-established timelines.

Development Executives

A Development Executive works on developing new TV show concepts. This can be through a number of different means, such as a writer coming in with an original pitch, a genre or story area the network feels is missing from their current line up, or a piece of material that an executive recognizes as a possible television series.

The development executive starts the process by identifying writers the network or studio should be in business with. Upon hiring a writer for a particular project, the development executive will work closely with them to make sure the project meets the expectations of the network. They will also help to identify directors, cast members and additional writers and producers to fill out the staff once a show goes from a pilot to a series production.

Getting a TV Executive Job

These jobs are in high demand and there are only a couple of ways to break in:

Become an Assistant: One of the fastest ways into the executive realm is to start as an assistant to an existing TV executive. This will not only expose you to the parameters of the job itself, but you will also meet and come in direct contact with the managers, agents, writers, directors and producers that you will be working with should you get promoted.

One of the most important things to remember if you take a job as an assistant is to make it known to your boss that you have every intention of learning on the job. Most executives (who don't feel threatened) will be happy to have you learn while you work. After all, many of them moved up the ladder the exact same way. A smart executive knows that the more their assistant knows, the more autonomous and effective they can be for them.

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, your boss might just take you seriously as a potential candidate.

A couple of caveats, however. First off, you must be sure that your job performance doesn't suffer. You must first perform the duties of being an assistant while simultaneously doing what you can to learn about what your boss does and how he/she does it. Secondly, although it's important that you make your intentions known to your co-workers, be subtle and efficient with your message. Make it known, but don't broadcast it as this might rub some people (including your boss) the wrong way.

Make Connections: Unfortunately, this is one of the few jobs in Hollywood where connections are really the only way in. If you can't get in by being an assistant to an existing executive, then the only other way this type of job will come down your path is if it is brought to you via a personal contact.

Most of these jobs are filled internally through promotion or internal transfer. So, it's important that you make friends within the networks and studios that can help you once you're ready to make your move.

With any television executive job, it's absolutely essential that you become a true student of television. Know what's on each network (cable included); who's writing it, directing it and starring in it. Understand as best you can the process of show development and the overall life of a series. Additionally, know that being a television executive is not a path to becoming a writer or a director. Can it happen? Absolutely, but if this is your ultimate goal, I'd urge you to focus exclusively on achieving that goal directly rather than going down this particular career path.

Being a television executive can be a rewarding and potentially lucrative career. You must be both creative and come with a head for business because you are the one who decides what America, and ultimately, the world sees.