Prime time television is a
bit schizophrenic about work. On the one hand, hard work is often
portrayed positively. But if network television characters really
want to get ahead, working hard is for suckers. Instead, they sleep
with the boss or stab coworkers in the back to succeed.
This is the conclusion of a
Media Research Center special report on entertainment television's
portrayal of business, investment and work. For the report, the
MRC's Free Market Project analyzed 17 weeks of prime time television
from 1995, 1996, and early 1997. During this study period, more
characters used manipulative means to advance their careers (92)
than relied on such means as education or hard work (78).
In 43 cases, workers moved
up because they knew the right people. On the July 16, 1996 Roseanne
(ABC), for example, a boss hired his son-in-law, saying: "We looked
at a lot of applicants; we found out that you were the only one
married to my daughter." Nineteen characters used sex to advance.
One the lead characters on the June 8, 1995 Hope & Gloria quit her
job at a beauty salon for a better offer. Her boss asked, "What did
you do, give him a quickie in his trailer?" Gloria responded: "At
least I didn't marry the owner of a beauty salon on his death bed."
On 16 occasions, workers
advanced by making a coworker or boss look bad or incompetent.
Rachel, a character on the October 11, 1995 Central Park West (CBS),
wanted another character's job as publisher of a magazine. She
leaked stories to other publications in order to make the current
publisher appear disloyal. Other forms of dishonesty paid off for 13
In 78 shows, characters
employed more ethical methods to succeed, such as hard work and
education. On the January 30, 1997 Living Single (Fox), viewers were
reminded that the publisher/ editor of a magazine earned a living
delivering pizzas while starting the magazine in her spare time. A
father told his lazy son, on the February 10, 1995 Boy Meets World
(ABC), "Come to my store. I'll show you how to earn money."
On 44 occasions, though,
characters scoffed at hard work without consequence. On the April
29, 1996 Dave's World, for instance, a secretary left work at 10:30
in the morning. When her boss objected, she explained: "Yes, but you
see I came in an hour early, which is really like three hours early
because I'm usually a couple of hours late. Plus, I was going to
skip my normal two-hour lunch hour because I was going to leave for
a dentist appointment anyway by three, but I canceled it so I could
go to the beach. So basically I've already worked a full day."
In such a world of work,
the cream doesn't exactly rise to the top. Managers were prime
time's all-purpose court jesters. There were 31 bosses shown who had
either not earned their positions or were otherwise good for a
laugh. The owner of a radio station on NewsRadio (NBC), for example,
was easily duped. On the February 5, 1997 episode, he bought a bunch
of supposedly authentic props, that were clearly fakes, from famous
Others weren't so benign.
Forty-four management characters kept their employees walking on
eggshells and abused their power. The owner of a modeling agency, on
the July 15 Fresh Prince of Bel Air (NBC) intoned, "Ooh, that felt
good," as she randomly fired an employee who happened to walk in
front of her.
Clearly, prime time
television values hard work. It just doesn't seem to think hard work
is the way most people succeed.
This issue analysis is
adapted from a Free Market Project special report, Businessmen
Behaving Badly, to be released later this spring.