Take This Job and … Air It
As Recession Drags, Viewers Get to Work Watching Vocation-Themed Reality Fare
By Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn — Multichannel News, 7/19/2010 12:01:00 AM
Even in a down economy, America is hard at work — on cable networks.
At a time when the U.S. unemployment rate stands at 9.5% — its highest level since August of 1983 — cable networks have found breakthrough hits in shows about people just doing their jobs.
From traffic-enforcement workers to bridal shop owners and police women on the beat, to real-life sagas of flight attendants, pest controllers, wildlife rescuers, oil drillers, gold diggers and auctioneers, cable’s reality programming has mined a vast array of jobs that keep America working — and viewers watching.
“As we suffer through this recession, the importance of jobs in American life is sort of being considered in these reality shows, certainly what work means to the average American,” said Ron Simon, curator of the Paley Center for Media in New York. “Something that is not seen all that much now becomes that much more important, and it’s dealt with tangentially, but it’s obviously something that touches some deep emotions.”
The curiosity of the unemployed or those switching careeers doesn’t fully explain the popularity of shows such as Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, History’s Pawn Stars, A&E Network’s Parking Wars or TLC’s Cake Boss, too.
Each show has been a success, spawning like-minded series that sometimes take a similar theme: Cake Boss shares the airwaves these days with TLC’s D.C. Cupcakes, not to be confused with Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. Elsewhere, History rival TruTV will add Hardcore Pawn to its lineup this August.
“Viewers are just drawn to compelling, true stories about other people,” said Andy Dehnart, editor of the reality-TV site realityblurred. com and visiting assistant journalism professor at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla.“That includes jobs that we never knew existed like those profiled in Discovery’s Dirty Jobs; ones that are harrowing, like Animal Planet’s Whale Wars; or those involving strong characters, as on Bravo’s Flipping Out.”
Considering the most popular shows in the genre can pull in more than 2 million viewers, it’s no surprise that programmers are working hard to get shows about work on the air.
A plethora of shows featuring cops and cake bakers and pawnshop owners runs the risk of making the genre seem overworked.
“Especially now, because there’s so much of it out there,” said Horizon Media senior vice president and director of research Brad Adgate.
“I think what’s going on is the cable networks are now trying to get as many viewers as they can, regardless of whether or not it fits with their brand or not, and I do think you want to want to distinguish yourself somewhat,” he said. “How different are the workrelated shows on TLC than what you would see on Food Network?
“Cake Boss could easily run on the Food Network and it would still do big numbers,” Adgate said. “We saw that with Project Runway when it moved from Bravo to Lifetime.”
GETTING JOB DONE
Tiffany, a three-year Philadelphia Parking Enforcement Officer, is on a mission: Issue 30 citations before the end of her shift. To get the job done, she relies on the aid of the” ticket genie,” the electronic device she says has a sixth sense for helping her locate parking perpetrators.
“I don’t think other ticket writers refer to their device as a ‘ticket genie’ — maybe if they did, they would [write] more tickets,” she said, sliding another violation notice under a windshield wiper during an episode of Parking Wars. That show takes viewers behind the scenes with the officers of the Philadelphia Parking Authority and Detroit’s Municipal Parking Department as they confront citizens whose vehicles have been ticketed, booted or towed.
Parking Wars begins its fourth season on A&E later this year, along with seventh-season hit series Dog the Bounty Hunter, second-year Billy the Exterminator and new series Teach: Tony Danza, in which the former star of Taxi and Who’s the Boss tackles the teaching profession. The Squad: Prison Police (premiering Aug. 5) is set in the Tennessee prison system.
One of A&E’s first shows in this genre, 2003’s Take This Job, only survived a season, senior vice president of programming Robert Sharenow recalled.
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