With the entertainment industry pumping out a different crop of reality shows every season, a new phenomenon had occurred. Business, success, and making money are suddenly portrayed positively. Reality shows depict business as a positive thing because, in reality, average Americans don’t see business and money as an inherently bad thing. That’s a complete turn-around from how businessmen have been pictured in scripted TV.
There are more than a dozen reality shows that portray a softer, more human side to businessmen and women. A&E has had huge success with its show “Duck Dynasty” that follows the self-made millionaire family that invented and patented the Duck Commander Duck Call. In fact, the season three finale of “Duck Dynasty” that aired on April 24, 2013 broke records with an astounding 9.6 million viewers.
Not bad for a bunch of heartless millionaires.
Fictional shows, such as “CSI” or “Law & Order,” tend to take the easy way out and use business and entrepreneurs as the perpetrators of all sorts of evil. They are murderers, con-men, and out to get the little man … the typical depiction of the rich from the left.
Cynthia Magnunson, a spokeswoman for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) attributed this anti-business bias to a major problem since the entertainment industry fails to “distinguish big business from small.”
Reality Shows Real Depiction of Business
In the March 21, 2012, episode of “Duck Dynasty,” CEO Willie Robertson closed the show with a discussion of business, family, and team work. That episode centered on Willie and his brother Jase switching roles as CEO for the day. Jase ultimately failed as CEO, and missed a huge shipment. “He’s not the best CEO in the world, but that’s why it’s a team. We have to rely on each other,” Willie said.
“Duck Dynasty” isn’t the only example of a pro-business reality show on television. Even the Bravo network, run by liberal Andy Cohen, has had at least 10 shows that have promoted successful business people. In “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” Lisa VanderPump is an entrepreneur who moved to America from England and started two successful swanky restaurants. VanderPump even got her own spin off show that followed running one of her restaurants.
NBC’s “The Apprentice” had shown different business people compete to work with billionaire Donald Trump. These formerly failed businessmen and women had a chance to start over. Redeeming failing businesses is a common theme in many reality shows.
Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue,” which had its third season premiere on Feb. 10, follows food and beverage industry consultant Jon Taffer as he gives his professional expertise to failing bars across the country. He does this all of no cost to the business people, providing them with know-how, new equipment and a complete makeover. In one episode he saw the bar chef mixing raw chicken with cooked chicken. The health-code violation was too much for Taffer. “I can’t contain myself,” he said as he moved quickly to stop it.
Similarly, Bravo’s “Tabitha Takes Over” shows Australian hairstylist and salon owner Tabatha Coffey take over salons and businesses that are doing poorly and transform them into flourishing ones. In the fifth season’s première on April 4, Tabitha visited a salon to help the stylist expand her clientele and adapt to the newly booming area.
There are other pro-business themes, as well. Shows like HGTV’s “Flea Market Flip” promote ingenuity, creativity, and entrepreneurialism. Two teams are challenged to find things at a flea market to transform and flip the next day. The team who makes the most profit after selling their newly refurbished items wins a cash prize. In one episode, two of the contestants bought an old door for $125, painted it, added a mirror, and were able to sell their newly created product for $500 – making a profit of $375! Entrepreneurship made simple … and fun!
Fictional Shows Demonize Business
The writers for fictional shows, however, take the opposite view of business. In the Dec. 7, 2012, episode of CBS’s “CSI:NY” titled “The Real McCoy,” Jimmy Batts (Michael Filipowich) ran an entire business of selling counterfeit vodka to bars. “Running a business is expensive,” he stated. When confronted about selling a fake product that cut corners and deceived consumers, Batts replied, “That’s usually what you do when you run a business.”
That’s par for the course for TV coverage of business. To label this as “cutting corners” makes business transactions and competition seem shady and lucrative.
On the Dec. 12, 2012, episode of sister show “CSI” titled “Risky Business Class,” viewers were introduced to a millionaire heiress, Helen Jordan, who was handicapped. Her trustee, Jeffrey Forsythe (Mark Moses), used a complicated scheme to use a nonprofit as a front to smuggle millions. The only way this was possible for Forsythe, however, was if Jordan was still alive. When a distant relative tried to meet up with Jordan, she soon realized the scam. The nonprofit Tranquil Hours was a fraud, and the evil, rich trustee Forsythe had to kill her.
CBS’s “The Mentalist” also demonized rich, well-to-do realtors who had appeared to turn their life around in the Nov. 25, 2012, episode “Black Cherry.” A group of realtors was driven to kill is because of a hunting accident. After they accidentally killed another hunter and didn’t want to report it, another colleague threatened to turn them in. Anti-business bias? Check. Anti-gun propaganda? Check.
The entertainment industry has pushed a very openly, anti-business agenda for years. The April 21, 2013, episode of CBS’s “The Good Wife” glamorized labor unions and portrayed business and management teams as bullies.The June 12, 2012, episode of TNT’s “Rizzoli & Isles” demonized fracking, furthering the myth of water pollution through the practice. The hit show “Law & Order” regularly used business as the villains in the 20 years it ran even to the very end in 2010, when two of the three final episodes had anti-business themes.
Cynthia Magnunson, a spokeswoman for the NFIB, noticed the same trend on the entertainment industry and businesses. “Hollywood and TV frequently portray business as the bad guy – but they fail to distinguish big business from small,” she said.
The problem with this portrayal of all businesses as the same is that it belittles and demonizes even small business owners who “employ more than half of working Americans,” according to Magnunson. “They’re neighbors and family members who operate cafes, farms, boutiques and gas stations. These folks tend to put customers and employees well above profits.”
This hasn’t mattered to Hollywood – or even the media – because they have been more concerned with playing politics. Independent businesses “get short shrift not only from Hollywood, but from the mainstream media and especially Washington, all of whom use small business as a political football when it suits them but fail to recognize how current policies are killing them,” Magnunson concluded.
Fox Business host Eric Bolling made a similar argument in December, 2011. “Liberal Hollywood depicting a successful businessman as evil? That’s not new,” he argued on “Follow the Money.”
As far back as 1992, Investor’s Business Daily published a lengthy article on this exact same phenomenon. According to Michael Fumento, this bias against business had been around for a while. Even then, television and movies depicted businessmen who “regularly shoot, slash, bludgeon, poison, blackmail, extort and smear their way to the top.”