A lot of shows on TV are far from real — fairytale characters living in an average American town, a post-apocalyptic world dominated by flesh-eating zombies, humans and vampires caught up in love triangles. But the fantasy of these shows is what makes them so enjoyable.
And then there are those shows that are more rooted in reality — ones that take place at law firms, hospitals, fire departments and other real-world offices. Although these jobs exist, the shows don’t always accurately depict an average workday.
So just how close are TV-show jobs to real-world jobs? Let’s take a closer look at a few:
The show: “Grey’s Anatomy”
The accuracy assessment: The long-running medical show follows the professional and personal lives of doctors at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. These doctors have been through a lot — ferry crashes, plane crashes, shootings and mega-storms, and yet they — for the most part — manage to survive. It seems pretty far-fetched for one hospital to be repeatedly dealt with such major catastrophes, but that’s what makes for good TV, right?
The drama also carries over to the doctors’ personal lives, where inter-office romances are the norm. An article on Slate.com discusses the sometimes misleading medical moments of the show: “Instead of asexual father figures, the doctors on cast are hyper-hormonal. Attendings sleep with residents. Interns bed nurses. Even patients are fair game … Normally, any of these infractions would be grounds for dismissal. At Grey’s hospital, they’re all in a day’s work.”
Yet while the show is meant to entertain, not educate, it does get some of the medical stuff right. According to an interview between TVFanatic.com and real-life interns and residents, “The residents agree that the terminology and medical procedures are pretty accurate. Usually.”
The show: “Homeland”
The accuracy assessment: “Homeland,” currently one of the most popular cable shows on TV, centers on the CIA as its agents fight terrorism in a post-9/11 world. The show uses real American history and politics as its base, and the scenarios that unfold — a U.S. soldier who is “turned” by the enemy after being a prisoner of war, a hunt to find a terrorist living in the U.S. — while fictional, could still be plausible.
Yet the day-to-day lives of most CIA agents aren’t as action-packed as those on the TV show. In an article from The Telegraph, real CIA agents are asked how closely their lives resemble those of their TV counterparts. According to the article, “Homeland takes the high-intensity, high-adrenaline moments and packages them into an hour … The real job as an analyst was maybe 15-20 percent awe-inspiring and dramatic moments … Other times, it’s about writing reports. You wouldn’t want to watch an analyst at a computer writing a President’s Daily Brief.”
The show: “The Newsroom”
The accuracy assessment: “The Newsroom” is a political drama about events that take place at the fictional news channel Atlantis Cable News. News anchor Will McAvoy and his staff are on a “mission to do the news well in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles — not to mention their own personal entanglements.” This usually means the ACN crew taking a moral stand when other networks won’t, even if it means angering the station’s owners.
But just how well does the show succeed in resembling a real newsroom? In an article from Slate.com, a former producer of “The O’Reilly Factor” talks about what the show gets right and what it gets wrong. According to the producer, the show is pretty accurate when it comes to the newsroom environment — the look of the facilities, the computers and software used by the staffers and the dress code; “The muddled dress code is true to a cable news workplace, where two competing aesthetic dynamics clash: the inherent schlubbiness of journalists and the flashy polish of television personalities.”
Yet not everything is spot-on with reality. In the article, the producer says that the biggest criticism against the accuracy of the show is that “… McAvoy is too safe, too middle-of-the-road, too afraid to offend or rock the boat,” compared with real-life anchors who are “quite eager to stir the pot.” The show’s accuracy is also off when it comes to how ratings are treated, according to the article. “In the world of ‘The Newsroom,’ the quest for ratings is portrayed as shameful, something that only the bean counters should care about, and that any serious journalist should ignore. But in the real world, every single cable news employee … is acutely aware of — or in some cases obsessed with — the numbers.”
Sure, most TV shows — even those that revolve around real jobs or offices — aren’t so real. But if they were, they probably wouldn’t be nearly as fun to watch.
Debra Auerbach is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.ca and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.