Thursday, June 21, 2007
The Improbable Stardom Of Business TV
At the link below is a thoughtful and comprehensive article about business as a subject, or as a setting, for TV shows. The focus is primarily on British TV, but there is much discussion of American shows as well - especially The Apprentice. The attitude toward business appears to differ primarily across genres. Fictional presentations of the business world are generally negative or at least satirical. Dramas often present executives as villains, or at least as generators of a conflict the protagonist must surmount, while comedies make fun of "the dreariness and incompetence of office life." Daily business news shows that deal with the stock market are more upbeat and enthusiastic than ever, typified on the extreme end by Jim Cramer of CNBC. In contrast, stock market shows in the past tended to be more sedate and dignified - but still upbeat - like Louis Rukeyser in Wall $treet Week. At the same time, many documentaries and extended news segments take a serious and critical, if sometimes superficial, approach to business and the problems it creates, such as rising health care costs and credit card debt.
The biggest friends of the business world among TV genres are the "reality" shows. One sub-genre in particular, in which ambitious young people get the chance to prove themselves to established business superstars. The article calls these shows "aspirational", and describes several, including The Apprentice, Dragons' Den and Tycoon. These shows take what many would call the negative characteristics of the business world - such as impossible deadlines and the cult of ruthlessnes - and converts them into challenges designed to make the show more exciting. In this sense, the reality shows are not unlike those TV movies whose protagonists must kill the dragons embodied by tyrannical bosses and back-stabbing co-workers - although in the dramas the back-stabbing may be literal. The widest divergence in attitude occurs in the news shows, which can range from scathing exposes of corporate scandals to mindless cheerleading for rising stock prices.
"How to get ahead in business television" from The Financial Times