Meredith Lepore is currently the careers editor at Levo League. She is the former Editor in Chief of the The Grindstone, a women’s career site. Previously, she was a staff writer at Wall Street Letter and Business Insider and a contributing writer for Learnvest. She has written for magazines including Marie Claire, SELF, Women’s Health and Composition, and Cosmopolitan. This article was originally published on The Grindstone on April 25, 2012.
“Life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television.” -Woody Allen
President Jed Bartlett. Jack McCoy. Don Draper. Liz Lemon. Detective Lennie Brisco. Kimberly Wells. Samantha Jones. Gordon Gekko. Ally McBeal. Dr. Mark Green. Alicia Florrick. Betty Suarez. Sam Seaborne. Jane Rizzoli. These are just some of the brightest characters that have graced the small television screen in the last 10 years. They not only entertain us but we are invested in their story lines. And for some us, they were more than just fictional characters on a TV show or in a film. They had careers that influenced us. We could also be the ones casing the crime scene for evidence or putting the bad guy in jail. Or maybe we could also be the ugly duckling that blossomed into a swan at a fashion magazine. We talked to some people who actually said television influenced their career choice.
Of course, television shows and movies can glamorize a career to an absurd degree. If we thought our jobs would be exactly like television we would be sorely disappointed when we saw that crime scenes weren’t’ completely covered in semen, not every DA looked like Angie Harmon or the blond version of Angie Harmon, there wasn’t always a hilarious gay guy in the office to be your quippy sidekick and again, every single one of your coworkers was ridiculously attractive and had designer clothes.
But at the same time, there is something to be said for movies and television shows getting people interested in careers that may have gone under the radar. The film All the President’s Men changed how people looked at journalism. Woodward and Bernstein became fighters of justice with awesome hair thanks to the film based on the true story. The Law & Order franchise has shown us pretty much every aspect of the law and from every possible angle. Sometimes it’s not just about putting the bad guy away. Recently Vanity Fair reporter Julie Weiner wrote about the enormous appeal of The West Wing and how it convinced a whole new generation to go into politics. From Weiner:
“In the same way that the noble, sleeves-rolled sleuthing of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein in All the President’s Men prompted legions of baby-boomers to dream of careers in journalism, The West Wing, which made policy discussions seem thrilling and governing heroic, has become a totem—its romanticization of a stuffy, insular industry infusing a historically uncool career with cultural cachet. Rather than treat the political process as risible at best (Dick, say, or Primary Colors), a horror show at worst (The Ides of March), The West Wing was pluckily idealistic. A hyper-real drama about waiting for a callback from some freshman congressman (D—Nowheresville) would have sent aspiring White House interns and aides running back to law school. Instead, The West Wing “took something that was for the most part considered dry and nerdy—especially to people in high school and college—and sexed it up,” says Eric Lesser, who worked in the Obama White House as a special assistant to former senior adviser David Axelrod and is now a student at Harvard Law School.”
We talked to some people who said their careers were influenced by television and it wasn’t just because they thought a Rob Lowe look-alike would be their coworker.
“For sure I wanted to work in newspapers because of The Paper. For a lot of people there was All The President’s Men, or some others, (Absence of Malice was really good) but for me it was the hustle and energy and characters from The Paper. I went on to work in journalism for 10 happy years, and I’m still involved in writing in the company I now run.”
Alana Mauger is the director of communications for Montgomery County Community College. She said:
“I first decided to pursue a career in journalism after seeing All the President’s Men in ninth grade. I went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in professional writing, and worked as an editor and journalist for five years before making the transition to non-profit public relations full-time.”
Kam Corkin is the founder of Drool Monkey Organics. She told The Grindstone:
“I was just telling my cousin that I think I decided to pursue the product I invented after having my baby because of the movie Baby Boom. I loved that movie growing up. The reality is far different than the movie. Of course, movies show instant success. In reality it’s very difficult to invent, manufacture and launch a brand with young children (3 year old and 9 month old).”
Greg Rinckey was only 19 when JAG debuted in September 1995. Greg loved the show so much that he joined the Army and became a JAG (Judge Advocate General’s) attorney. He has since opened his own military law firm in New York, DC and Virginia. He also is the go-to Military Law Analyst for media outlets across the country. All this because of JAG.
We all know the Mad Men effect is a real thing but there were other shows about advertising too that had some influence. John Farr worked as an ad executive in Manhattan for 17 years before quitting to be a film commentator and critic for bestmoviesbyfarr.com.
“Always loved Darren Stevens in Bewitched growing up and I understand the fascination with Mad Men. Here’s the difference between reality and pretend though: we all played hard, but we also worked hard. Those campaigns did not come out of the air…it was tough! And as a movie authority now, I can tell you the same holds true for portrayals of many other businesses in movies…and it’s because the hard part is rather boring dramatically.”
And sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a fictional character. It can be a reality show (but how real are they anyway?) Allison Russo told The Grindstone:
“I was influenced to pursue a career in public relations because of MTVs show Power Girls featuring Lizzie Grubman. I actually later interned with one of the girls on the show, Kelly Brady, this past summer at her new company Brandsway Creative in New York City. I just love working with people and hosting events and the show made it seem so glamorous. I later found out there is definitely hard work in it, but I love what I do.”
In her article, “My Career Choice was Influenced by Television and Movies,” Meredith Lepore argues that many people were inspired to pursue careers based on what they viewed on television and in movies while growing up. Citing famous television and cinematic characters, including Don Draper, Liz Lemon, Gordon Gekko, and Jane Rizzoli, Lepore contends that the those who watched them became invested in and influenced by the lives they saw on the screen. Though Lepore acknowledges that “television and movies can glamorize a career to an absurd degree,” she also writes that “movies and television shows [can get] people interested in careers that may have gone under the radar.” She interviews several professionals who attribute their interest in their field to a movie or television show they watched growing up. Scott Yates, CEO of BlogMutt, wanted to work in journalism after seeing the film The Paper, telling Lepore, “For sure I wanted to work in newspapers because of The Paper. I went on to work in journalism for 10 happy years, and I’m still involved in writing in the company I now run.” Kam Corkin, founder of Drool Monkey Organics, pursued a career in entrepreneurship because of the movie Baby Boom, telling Lepore, “I was just telling my cousin that I think I decided to pursue the product I invented after having my baby because of the movie Baby Boom. I loved that movie growing up.” Lepore also interviews professionals with careers in law, advertising, and public relations.
Lepore, Meredith. “‘My Career Choice Was Influenced By Television And Movies’.” The Grindstone. Defy Media, 25 Apr. 2012. Web. 04 Apr. 2015.