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Businessmen Behaving Badly: Prime Time's World of Commerce

Executive Summary

What kind of messages about business and the American workplace does prime time tele-vision send to viewers? To find out, the Free Market Project of the Media Research Center (MRC) analyzed 17 weeks of prime time fare over 26 months -- a total of 863 sitcoms, dramas, and made-for-TV movies on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. The MRC found that:

TV businessmen commit more crimes than those in any other occupation. Of the 514 criminals on TV during the study period, 150 (29.2 percent) were business owners or executives. Only 50 (9.7 percent) were career criminals. Twenty-one doctors committed crimes (4.1 percent), followed by 20 government officials (3.9 percent) and 18 police officers (3.5 percent); lawyers were the guilty party only five times (one percent).

TV businessmen murder more than others, too. Business characters weren't mere petty criminals. Of the 214 murderers, 65 (30.4 percent) were business owners or executives. Career criminals were next with 21 TV murders (9.8 percent); TV doctors, government officials and police officers each murdered nine times (4.2 percent each).

TV businessmen are more likely to cheat than to contribute to society. Of the 731 business characters, 210 (28.7 percent) cheated to get ahead. Only 183 (25 percent) were shown meeting the needs of society through their work.

TV big businessmen are more contemptible than TV small businessmen. Of 65 business murderers, 47 (72.3 percent) were big businessmen; 139 of 302 (46 percent) big businessmen cheated to get ahead, while only 71 of 424 (16.7 percent) small businessmen cheated to get ahead; 28 (9.3 percent) big business characters had careers which contributed to society, compared to 155 (36.6 percent) small business characters.

TV is unfriendly to the American workplace in general. More characters used such means as sex, backstabbing, or knowing the right person to advance their careers (90) than relied on such means as education or hard work (68).