Media Reality Check
  Notable Quotables
  Press Releases
  Media Bias Videos
  30-Day Archive
  The Watchdog
  About the MRC
  MRC in the News
  Support the MRC
  Planned Giving
  What Others Say
  Take Action
  Gala and DisHonors
  Best of NQ Archive
MRC Resources
  Site Search
  Media Addresses
  Contact MRC
  Comic Commentary
  MRC Bookstore
  Job Openings
  News Division
  NewsBusters Blog
  Business & Media Institute
  Culture and Media Institute

Support the MRC


What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

Tell a friend about this site

May 1997


Issue Analysis: Entertainment TV Characters on the Job
How to Get Ahead on TV

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 characters.

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 movies.

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.


Rich Noyes


Home | News Division | Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts 
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact the MRC | Subscribe

Founded in 1987, the MRC is a 501(c) (3) non-profit research and education foundation
 that does not support or oppose any political party or candidate for office.

Privacy Statement

Media Research Center
325 S. Patrick Street
Alexandria, VA 22314