Television is not about you, mister. Television is about itself. The artists who collectively create television would have us believe that they are holding up an artistic mirror in which we the viewing public can see ourselves. I wasted an afternoon surveying current television shows in order to disprove that notion.

I surveyed eighty-three prime-time serial comedies and dramas presently airing on the four networks, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX. Excluded from the survey were "reality" shows like "Cops," news magazine shows, movies and sports events. Source material came from the websites of the networks I mentioned above. I read each synopsis, and based on that synopsis, I determined the primary occupation of the household which is the subject of the show and put the show into one of the following categories.

System Professionals
Doctors, Lawyers, Cops, those staples of television drama since there has been television drama, High Incident, Chicago Hope, Crisis Center, Vital Signs, Walker, Texas Ranger, etc.
Shows like Boston Common, Mr. Rhodes, Hang Time, Coach, Third Rock From the Sun, etc.
No Job
Only two synopses specified jobless, Pauly and Promised Land
Touched by an Angel, Sabrina, Tales from the Crypt, Milennium, etc
Entertainment and Media
Shows revolving around TV, radio, publishing, theatre, comedians, cartoonists, writers, actors, documentary producers, musicians, professional sports. In this category you'll find Seinfeld, Caroline in the City, The Nanny, Spin City, Ink, Frasier, News Radio, California Dreams, etc.
All this means is that I couldn't tell from the network website what the primary occupation of the central household is.
This is the point of the survey. In this category are all the regular occupations once we've eliminated doctors, lawyers, cops, witches and entertainers. These are the television people that have jobs like you and I have.

Here are the results in ascending order by number of shows per category: out of eighty-three shows surveyed...


Okay, there is some lattitude here. It's not always easy to pidgeonhole a show into one category. News Radio is easy. Men Behaving Badly is not. In that show, you have two main characters, one a photographer, the other an alarm installer. It's a toss-up between Media and Other. I put it in Media because the photographer is the star of the show. On the other hand, Fran Drescher in The Nanny is the star of the show, but the primary occupation of the household is that of a Broadway theatrical producer. Something So Right went into the Teacher category, even though the wife of the couple is a party planner, and had I really wanted to boost the Entertainment category, I might have put the show there.


Had I wanted to be thorough, I could have wasted a week watching these shows rather than an afternoon reviewing the capsule descriptions. Heck, since there are only seven, I'll list those that were in the unknown category: Ellen, Family Matters, E.L. Raymond, Lawless, Melrose Place, Pretender and Prince Street. There. Does that in any way change the coclusions of the survey? No. I feel my point has been driven home pretty forcefully even with the casual methods used here.


Nothing beyond my assertion that entertainment and media turn increasingly to entertainment and media for subject matter. This is the result of getting all our entertainment from an isolated enclave of artists and craftsmen who have spent their entire lives in the world of entertainment and media. What else are they going to use as creative material? What else do they know?

Parts of it might look familiar, but remember it's not about you.

RTJ 4/1/97

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