Although the medium's technical complexity demands that any television program is a collective product involving many talents and decision makers, in American television it is the producer who frequently serves as the decisive figure in shaping a program. Producers assume direct responsibility for a show's overall quality and continued viability. Conventional wisdom in the industry consequently labels television "the producer's medium"--in contrast to film, where the director is frequently regarded as the key formative talent in the execution of movie.
In fact, producers' roles vary dramatically from show to show or organization to organization. Some highly successful producers, such as Quinn Martin and Aaron Spelling, are primarily business executives presiding over several programs. They may take an active role in conceiving new programs and pitching (presenting them for sale) to networks, but once a show is accepted they are likely to concentrate on budgets, contracts, and troubleshooting, handing over day-to-day production to their staffs, and exercising control only in a final review of episodes. Other producers are more intimately involved in the details of each episode, participating actively in screenwriting, set designs, casting and--like James Burrows--serving as a frequent director for their programs. Still others serve as enabling mid-managers who delegate crucial activities to directors, writers, and actors, but who choose such personnel carefully, and enforce critical standards, while working to insulate the creative staff from outside pressures. Many producers dispatch their duties within studio hierarchies, while others own independent companies, sometimes contracting space, equipment, and personnel from studios.