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A head writer is a person who oversees the team of writers on a television or radio series. The title is common in the soap opera genre, as well as with sketch comedies and talk shows that feature monologues and comedy skits. In prime time series this function is generally performed by an executive producer, who may also be called the showrunner, as in some of the long series that have been produced since the late 20th century in the United States.
The head writer conceives and outlines the long-term story of a scripted television or radio series.
In daytime television, the over-arcing story lines are broken out into daily episodes, which are individually outlined by particular writers, and fleshed out with dialogue by others.
In prime time series, individual staff or freelance writers briefed with any long-term story lines generally pitch their episode ideas to the head writer/executive producer. The writer develops their ideas into an outline and a script, which is subsequently edited and revised by the series' entire writing team during the production process.
Sometimes head writers also hold the role of story editor, though at other times the roles are separate.
There are several awards for which a head writer can be eligible for. They include:
- Daytime Emmy Award (Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series Writing Team)
- Primetime Emmy Award (Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special, Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series)
- Writers Guild of America Awards
- Gemini Awards
- Satellite Awards
- Golden Globe Award (Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay)
- British Academy Television Awards
- TCA Awards
Head writers may be members of the following groups: WGA, Writers Guild of Canada, Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild of America, American Screenwriters Association, Australian Writers' Guild, and International Affiliation of Writers Guilds.