Could you do a better job than your TV boss?

The Boss

A survey out today says seventy per cent of us think we could do a better job than the boss. Only 18 per cent of British workers believe their boss is ‘more capable’ than they are. 41 per cent describe their boss as “totally incompetent” and many don’t believe their boss values their contribution or communicates effectively*. So does this apply in the television business?


How many times have you sloped off to the pub with your colleagues or berated your partner at home with tales of your boss’s incompetence? You have my sympathy but today I write in support of beleaguered bosses everywhere. Truth is you can’t know what their job is like until you do it yourself. Many’s the time I have moaned over the years about my boss at the time, only to reach their dizzying professional heights after promotion and had to change my tune.

What does the boss do anyway?

There is often more to the boss’s job than meets the eye of his or her subordinates, and that is as it should be. They will probably have many more management issues to deal with and these rarely have visible and tangible outcomes.  Yes they may appear to spend a lot of time having long lunches but who’s to say those lunches are giving them indigestion as they fend off irate presenters, demanding executives and illogical agents?

Their job is to create the best conditions for you to do your job. That means keeping any unnecessary distractions away from you.  You don’t need to know that the managing director believes your pay should be cut in half whilst your hours are doubled – until such time as that becomes a reality. A good boss will be managing upwards to ensure the managing director does not implement these changes. A good boss will know the value of what you are doing and do their best to protect you and your working environment. They just may not always take time out to tell you what they are doing and how much they value you.

Why doesn’t the boss tell me they love me?

Of course they should, but it’s human nature to assume you know. So many times I have heard people complain that no-one gives them any positive feedback in television, that the boss doesn’t come and talk to them often enough or praise their work.  We should all make more effort to say thank you for a job well done, congratulate a runner for contributing an idea, or praise the researcher for making that round of tea when everyone was under pressure. But just because the boss doesn’t tell you, doesn’t mean they don’t value what you are doing. Their heads are full of stuff too and sometimes it just doesn’t occur to them.

Once a team has worked together for a while there is a good chance they will all start to take each other for granted. And why not? We’re all working under pressure most of the time; we all need to do our job to the best of our ability to make the team work; we all need to get on with it. If you need constant feedback and praise you are probably in the wrong business! Television production generally has a ‘thank you and well done’ phase built in to its schedule – the wrap party! Frankly if you survive that long you can assume you’ve done a good job!

When should you expect feedback?

When you have recently started a new job or taken on a new role. Then if it is not offered you should ask to book a time to see the boss and talk about how you are doing. Never be afraid to do this. Most bosses will respect someone who cares enough about their job to ask for feedback.

When should you ask for promotion?

When you genuinely feel you are ready. Once you have mastered your current job and understand how the promotion will alter your responsibilities. If you are a runner or researcher, find a time when a researcher or assistant producer is not too busy and ask if you can talk to them about their job and what they do. Ask your boss if you could act up in the more senior role for a week sometime so you can get a better idea of what it involves. But make sure you are doing your current role well, and have gained a suitable amount of experience in it, before expecting to move upwards

Does the boss know what they are doing?

Most the time they probably do even though you may not think it. Chances are they have been in the business longer than you and have gained experience. Remember that experience is only gained by making mistakes now and again. The boss isn’t perfect but they probably know more than you!

Of course occasionally someone gets to be the boss without having the necessary skills. This is not their fault – this is the fault of the person who hired them.

Sometimes a boss has been promoted because they are really good at making television programmes but turn out to be really bad at managing people. The more you are promoted in television the more management tasks you will have to take on. An assistant producer needs to be able to manage the researchers, the producer needs to manage the whole team, the director needs to manage the studio, a series editor has got to keep a whole lot of sensitive, creative, pressurised people sane, safe and effective. Without people skills a boss will find it hard to be a good boss. So if you are hoping to work your way up the greasy pole of television production, make sure you polish your personal skills not just your writing and editing talents.

But I really do have a bad boss!

OK, so you have a boss who really is incompetent. Then console yourself with the fact that this too is useful experience for you. A good television employee learns that it is as important to know how to ‘manage up’ as it is to ‘manage down. ‘Managing’ your boss is a very valuable skill. Basically if your boss doesn’t know what to do for the best and you do (but make sure you do!) then influence him or her to do it your way. A lot of television jobs involve inspiring the people around you with confidence and certainly if you are a producer this is one of the key skills you need to develop – so where better to hone this talent than in the boss’s office? Inspire them with your idea, persuade them your way of doing it will work better, help them to understand why your way is going to more effective, and convince them with facts to support your theory. Do this in a supportive way rather than an underhand way and your boss will value you and with any luck eventually promote you!

In my professional youth I always wondered what managers did – apart from having long lunches and attending long meetings. But once I entered the world of senior management I soon got it! You don’t appreciate a good boss until you get a really bad one. Good management is crucial. Bad management is excruciating. It can make all the difference between a successful television show or department and a bad one, between a positive working experience and a negative one.

May you always have good and inspiring bosses, and when you don’t may you learn to manage on your own!

*The poll was conducted by online recruitment company,


  • Greg Scott says:

    Another insightful and feather-ruffling blog, Lady.

    Fact is, that too many people in the upper echelons of the television firmament have armfuls of academic qualifications, but no gut-feeling for the business, nor common sense.

    That was all, really. I’m going to have a milkshake now. A “Frijj”. Banana flavour.

  • Ha – another wise word from the the Big G! Too true – we need a combination of experience, skills and gut feeling. Not easy to find everything in one person!
    Could you make mine chocolate – not keen on banana flavour…..

  • …’course what we really need are stories about those bosses from Hell! Feel free to post them here – although probably best to leave out the real names…!

  • emma Shore says:

    This isn’t really my story but the story of someone I know – this young man used to work as a runner on a well known daytime telly show, along with answering to about 10 other bosses, he had to run errands for the head of features – these included such exciting and useful tasks as buying her tampax and getting her shoes re-heeled .. unsurprisingly he left ..

    The BEST stories though I think come from working with crazy presenters .. !!!

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