Content

Take This Job and … Air It

7/19/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

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.

“But from that show, we discovered
Dog the Bounty Hunter;
we did a show called Family Plots,
about a real family-run mortuary;
and The King of Cars, which was
about a used car salesman who
was featured on Take This Job;
and Parking Wars,” he said.

In each case, the shows were
“driven by the personality of the person
doing that job,” he said. “There is
also something magical and unique
about documenting the job itself —
they’re very unusual jobs that you
wouldn’t want to do yourself, and
yet you’re really drawn into seeing
what it’s really like.”

Viewers can live vicariously as
modern-day farmers, as in Planet
Green’s The Fabulous Beekman
Boys
, or by shopping around the
world, like Anthropologie buyer-atlarge
Keith Johnson on Sundance
Channel’s Man Shops Globe.

Or they could watch Ric and
Lincoln O’Barry rescue dolphins
on Animal Planet’s Blood Dolphins
(August); or aspire to become
a pastry chef, like Buddy
Valastro of TLC’s Cake Boss.

What works about workplace
shows is they appeal to a number
of basic human needs, said TruTV
executive vice president and general
manager Marc Juris.

“There’s a curiosity, a thirst for
knowledge about something you
didn’t know, a little bit of voyeurism
and an element of accepting
your own status,” he said. “If you
look at a show where people have
really difficult, challenging or
menial jobs it makes you feel better
about yourself. If it’s a person
with a great job, then there’s the
aspirational factor.”

On-the-job series also connect
to what are perceived as core
American values.

The struggles and triumphs of
the Texas oil riggers on TruTV’s
Black Gold
(returning in August)
appeal to the idea of the brave
and conquering American hero.
Pawnbrokers who haggle and deal
for goods with patrons in TruTV’s
Hardcore Pawn (late summer) or
the micro-managing schemes
of self-made millionaire of Willie
Degel in the network’s America’s
Toughest Boss
(working title)
align with “our principal beliefs in
an honest day’s work for an honest
day’s pay,” Juris said. “It’s the ideal
of the American dream.”

While much of TruTV’s jobseries
lineup features prominent
male leads or characters,
the channel’s viewing among 18-
to-34-year-old women is up 20%
since its January 2008 rebranding
from Court TV. Both men and
women are drawn to shows like
the popular seventh-season carreclamation
series Operation
Repo
and Full Throttle Saloon,
which follows the happenings
at the world’s largest biker bar.
Overall, TruTV’s viewing among
adults 18 to 34 is up 39% since the
rebrand and up 60% with men 18
to 34, according to the network.

“We find that there is a psychographic,
rather than a demographic,
who likes these kinds of
shows,” Juris said, adding that development
a refl ection of the new
world order. “It’s not unusual to
see a female firefighter or a female
police officer. Things are becoming
more equal. I think that
has allowed for more diversity of
interests to flourish and for people
to explore that in media.”

Said David McKillop, History
senior vice president of programming
and development: “People
are social animals, and people
love people. But our shows aren’t
just about a job, but about people
doing jobs that are rooted in our
brand, that are rooted in history.”

History and Discovery, in particular,
have mined gold from the
job genre, with History’s breakout
shows Pawn Stars and American
Pickers
staking places among cable’s
top top unscripted series, behind Discovery’s Deadliest
Catch
(which has an extra
draw this year from fans watching
how the show handles the
death of a main character, Capt.
Phil Harris).

History’s newest entry in the
genre, Chasing Mummies, follows
noted Egyptologist Dr. Zahi
Hawass on archaeological explorations,
while mainstays Ice
Road Truckers
and Ax Men depict
more traditional acts of strength
and skill. “Especially in Ice Road
Truckers
, where you get these guys
up there in that truck in these
very harsh conditions,” McKillop
said. “It’s the classic confrontation
of man versus nature.”

High-octane jobs have their
own built-in drama that makes
for great television.

For the tornado hunters of
Storm Chasers, it’s those “ ‘holy
crap!’ moments,” Discovery
Channel general manager Clark
Bunting said. Deadliest Catch
(Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET), which follows
crab fishermen in Alaska, offers
“the complexity of what it is
to be a captain and, in a way, what
it means to be a modern-day cowboy
and family man — and a lot of
people admire that.”


GOOD FOR BUSINESS

While the show has spawned
fan fests such as CatchCon, consumers
can’t shop for Deadliest
Catch
crab legs. But Cake Boss
fans can — and do — line up
around the block at Carlo’s City
Hall Bake Shop in Hoboken,
N.J., where star Buddy Valastro
is head pastry chef. He’s said
to serve 85 customers per hour
— all eager to see and taste the
mouth-watering art he makes
on the show.

“What we really love about Buddy,
and a lot of our shows that you
see in the workplace, is what he
does is extremely visual,” says
Nancy Daniels, TLC senior vice
president of production and development.
“In every episode, you’re
seeing many different creations
that he comes up with, and it’s really
fun to watch that process, and
it has really blossomed into being
a family show at the same time.”

TLC’s latest family-and-sweets
show, D.C. Cupcakes, follows sisters/
business partners Sophie
LaMontagne and Katherine Kallins
as they face the challenges
of running — and expanding —
their Georgetown Cupcake business
into a national franchise. The
six-episode series could certainly
bring some welcome attention to
their venture.

American Chopper’s Paul Teutul
Jr.’s business could get a boost
when his show returns Aug. 12.

“Paul Jr. and Sr. are completely
on the outs, which is unfortunate,”
Daniels said. “But Junior is opening
up his own shop right down the
street from Senior. It really will be
a Junior vs. Senior scenario.”

TV exposure led Jeff Lewis from
Bravo’s Flipping Out to a new career.
After two seasons, Lewis
stopped flipping houses and started
designing interiors because
people responded favorably to
his aesthetic on the show.

“Typically, the people we put on
our shows weren’t looking to be
on TV,” said Andy Cohen, Bravo’s
senior vice president of original
programming and development.
“But I think they ultimately did it
because they recognized that it is
a great opportunity to brand them
and brand their businesses.”

Celebrity can be a doubleedged
sword for some business
owners, said Marjorie Kaplan,
president and general manager
of Animal Planet.

After the first six episodes of
Pit Boss, about a group of little
people with a big love for rescuing
pit bulls, owner Shorty Rossi
became inundated with requests
for help.

“He was a little overwhelmed
and has had to rethink how he’s
doing things — but so far, I think
the impact has largely been a positive
one,” Kaplan said.

In the case of the Sea Shepherd
Conservation team of Whale Wars
— dubbed activists and heroes by
some, and eco-pirates by others
— “they tend to be something of
a lightning rod, and lightning is
striking all around them,” Kaplan
said. “Some of it, they would
say, is in support of what they do
and some of it is not. When you
become famous, or your job becomes
famous, you attract a lot
more attention, both positive and
negative.”

September