Who's asking: Kathy Miller, Jacksonville, FL
As I've said before, the secret of Answer Girl's success is knowing the people who have the answers. I passed this question on to my old friend Gary Fleder, currently shooting a mid-season replacement series ("October Road") for ABC.
"Producer" is a catch-all title that can mean anything from the creator of the show to the person responsible for hiring guest directors. Except for distinctions like "executive producers" (the show's creators) and "associate producers" (possibly the network personnel responsible for supervising the show), you can't tell whether a "producer" is someone who hires and fires, a staff writer, or something else.
If a series has a permanent writing staff, as most series do, those writers are usually credited as "producers" for each show, with individual writing credits going to whoever took the lead in drafting a particular script.
A long-term contract may specify that someone receives a producer credit for a given period of time, whether or not that person remains involved in the show. Thus, a long-running show like "The Simpsons" includes producer credits for people the current writing staff have probably never even met.
Today's post was late due to yet another computer emergency -- the sudden inability of my new laptop to read my external hard drive. As it turned out, the problem was just that the hard drive had a screw loose. Keep your comments to yourself.