Work-centric shows and movies like ‘9 to 5,’ ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Empire’ resonate with anyone who’s ever held a job.
We can’t tune out work even when we’re off the clock.
We spend at least one-third of our lives on the job — and yet, one of our favorite ways to decompress during our precious free time is to watch entertainment set in the workplace.
Just look at the slew of reboots and revivals centered around jobs that are coming to stage and screen:
*A “9 to 5” sequel featuring the original cast (Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin) was announced this week, almost 40 years after the 1980 blockbuster about three secretaries who get revenge on their misogynistic boss. The film earned $103 million in theaters and spawned an ABC series of the same name that ran for five seasons, as well as a 2009 musical starring Tracey Ullman, Allison Janney and Megan Hilty that was nominated for four Tonys.
*”Murphy Brown” is returning to CBS later this year, with Candice Bergen reprising her role as an investigative reporter and cable news anchor who became a real working-mom icon, as her character eventually juggled her demanding gig with being a single mother. The series ran for 10 seasons in the ’80s and ’90s, and earned 18 Emmys and three Golden Globes.
*The 1988 classic “Working Girl,” about an ambitious Wall Street secretary (Melanie Griffith) working her way up in a man’s world despite her backstabbing boss (Sigourney Weaver), is being adapted for Broadway. The movie raked in $103 million worldwide and scored six Oscar noms (winning for Best Song) and won four Golden Globes, including Best Picture – Musical or Comedy.
*There’s even rumors of NBC’s “The Office” being revived; the network has remained mum, but stars John Krasinski hinted on the “Today” show recently, “I would so be down … maybe we could do like a Christmas special or something.” The mockumentary sitcom following the everyday lives of Pennsylvania paper company employees ran for nine seasons and earned four Emmys, including one for Outstanding Comedy Series. Steve Carell won a Golden Globe for playing inept boss Michael Scott.
And much of today’s must-see TV is set at work. Shonda Rhimes’ multicultural trauma room drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” which has been on the air for 14 seasons and counting, has made lead actress Ellen Pompeo the highest-paid women on TV with a $20 million salary. “Empire’s” dramatic take on the family power struggle over a multimillion-dollar hip-hop music and entertainment company made more money for Fox than any other series in 2016 (apart from sports programs), Forbes reported, with $125.5 million in ad revenue in 2016 and $124.5 million in 2015. Last month, HBO premiered “Succession,” which follows a super-rich family also squabbling over who will take over its media empire, and has already renewed it for a second season.
— Empire (@EmpireFOX) June 14, 2018
So what makes the mundane details of boardroom meetings and office politics so compelling for us to watch?
“The interpersonal challenges, and the little moments that provide color to our day, are things that we all connect to,” workplace psychologist Dr. Christine Allen told Moneyish. “If workplaces were completely idealized on TV and movies, we couldn’t relate to them. But we are drawn to that sense of seeing someone going through something similar to what we are; we’re not alone. And there’s a sense of belonging and inclusion.”
“It’s a very cathartic genre,” agreed Ali Mierzejewski, editor-in-chief of The Pop Insider. “A lot of people spend eight to 10 hours of their day at work. It’s a big part of their lives. So if you had this awful day at work, or this weird experience where you feel like you’re going crazy … and then you watch something like ‘The Office’ and one of Michael Scott’s HR training sessions … it’s like, ‘I’m not crazy after all. This is just an extreme version of exactly what happened to me today.’”
Plus, there’s plenty of wish fulfillment in watching characters do and say things on the job that we would never dare to do, such as Fonda telling her boss he’s “a wart on the nose of humanity” in “9 to 5,” or Tomlin warning the same sleaze, “don’t you ever refer to me as ‘your girl’ again.” Or how 2011 dark comedy “Horrible Bosses” saw Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis playing three office drones conspiring to murder their awful managers played by Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell and Kevin Spacey.
“What I loved about ‘9 to 5’ was how the characters called out their boss in a way that we can’t do as easily in a regular work day,” said Allen. “There is something so funny and cathartic about watching people do that.”
She also noted that Gallup reports a whopping 85% of global employees are not engaged at work, and 18% are actively disengaging by calling in sick when they’re not, or dawdling instead of finishing their tasks. In the U.S., only one-third of American employees are engaged at work, according to Gallup (50% are unengaged, and about 13% actively disengaged), which means about 65% of American workers are not engaged.
“So there is something about watching a workplace — whether it’s dysfunctional or not — where people care, or where people are actively engaging with one another, which is another piece of wish fulfillment,” Allen added. “We spend a hell of a lot of time at work, and we want to see people like us being engaged and part of something larger than ourselves.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved