It's a dog-eat-dog world for today's entrepreneur. The advent of the Internet and its subsequent takeover of everyone's entire life, as well as a continued reliance on hyperlocal brick-and-mortar storefronts prove that, for the marketplace minded, business frontiers abound. And then there's TV. Television teaches an altogether different lesson about business: it doesn't have to be realistic to be entertaining. If you're worried about your toehold in today's consumer economy (or if you just have 15 minutes to kill), check out these top 10 unrealistic businesses that you can find on TV.
Phase 1: STEAL UNDERPANTS. Phase 2: ? Phase 3: PROFIT.
In a season two episode of South Park, the boys meet the Underpants Gnomes — bite-sized bearded men that march into children's bedrooms in the wee hours of the morning and steal — you guessed it — underpants.
Why It's Unrealistic: With the exception of a complete lack of methodology, any discernible infrastructure, and probably a tax number — this business plan is foolproof. And illegal. And executed by mythical creatures that in no way exist.
Inveterate favorite Saved by the Bell follows its high-school characters through many business ventures and ideas of varying success. (You remember Buddy Bands, right?) In a season four episode that originally aired in 1992, Bayside's beloved resident geek, Screech (Dustin Diamond), created a small spaghetti sauce business with his best friend Zack that quickly exploded. As it turns out, they actually committed theft and fraud — the recipe was stolen from a popular cookbook. And the bottling and distribution materials? Zack lifted those from the school's science lab. In a characteristically comical chain of events, the boys learn the realities of start-up costs and the benefits of liquidating.
Why It's Unrealistic: Nobody gets away with stealing beakers from Bayside. Nobody. Also, is Betty Crocker's spaghetti sauce recipe really that good? Dubious, at best.
The usually stupid, sometimes criminally insane cast of characters in FX's comedy smash It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia run Paddy's Pub, an unsuccessful bar in south Philly. Although they try many a gimmick — America's Next Top Paddy's Billboard Model Contest, selling tickets to a water stain that looks like the Virgin Mary, and becoming a gay bar among them — the gang isn't exactly focused on long-term, sustainable growth of their business. To the contrary — usually, it's used or abused as a setting for a place to hang out.
Why It's Unrealistic: Unless the gang is hosting some type of event, no one's ever at Paddy's that doesn't own it or look homeless. Basically, it's the opposite of Cheers. Poor Paddy's is simply a stage for Dennis, Mac, Charlie, Sweet Dee, and Frank to impose themselves on the world. There's even an episode in season four called "Paddy's Pub: The Worst Bar in Philadelphia."
Just because he's a business magnate doesn't mean that he's not primarily a media figure. And you'd better believe that competing for a spot in one of his companies nets him much more than the $250,000 starting salary you get if you win.
Why It's Unrealistic: While public mentoring young businesspeople would be an informative (if not pedantic) TV show, the methods by which Trump chooses his next apprentice are made for a more generalized audience, and not an accurate representation of what business actually looks like. Fine to watch for entertainment, but take caution if you think you're learning any true tricks of the cutthroat business trade. The last thing you want to hear is, "You're fired!"
Perhaps it's just more of a public service, but it's a smidge concerning that most crime-fighters are stuck in their current socioeconomic class. TV's Bruce Wayne (and, for that matter, Adam West) will be rich no matter what, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will always live in the sewers.
Why It's Unrealistic: There's absolutely no functional business model for vigilante justice. How can a superhero, especially one that has an identity to protect, send you a bill? How do these people/turtles do this stuff full time, anyway? Where's all that pizza money coming from? Even Superman and Spiderman have day jobs. Get a grip, crusaders.
There's always money in the banana stand.
Used as a tax shelter and a place to hide cash by Bluth patriarch George Sr., the joke here is that the banana stand is the only profitable part of the Bluth empire, even though George was a real estate mogul (prior to his arrest). On its face, the Bluth Frozen Banana Stand is a low-overhead, low-risk company with little opportunity for growth. And without family working there for little to no pay, it's likely got little opportunity for even sustainable development.
Why It's Unrealistic: With so many of the kooky Bluths hanging around, it's a wonder that the banana stand ever even has customers. The stand has been burned down, is thrown in the water at least once a year, and it was a meeting place for petty drug deals of generations gone by. Plus, it's TV, so shenanigans must be called: there's not really any money in the banana stand in the end.
24's Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) may have been an American badass, but his extreme measures and rule-bending shooting sprees are in no way indicative of workers in the counter terrorism industry. Most of the counter terrorism measures implemented domestically are done so in dull federal office buildings, not reimagined warehouses in the middle of LA.
Why It's Unrealistic: First of all, why is Jack Bauer the only person that can uncover conspiracies and anti-American plots? It is difficult to believe that he works in poorly lit warehouses and flies all around the world because he's the only person capable of effectively beating the bad guys. There are droves of brilliant government employees and contractors that work in concert to keep the country safe, from sea to shining sea.
With so little work being performed, how could a company survive? Although the people may be the reason that you tune in every week, their actual job is to make you laugh, not to sell paper. And it's a good thing, too.
Why It's Unrealistic: If you look beyond the comedy, what you've really got is an office full of dumbos, horny people, pranksters, and eccentrics, working in a small town with an inept manager (although that casting has recently changed) whose focus is on being liked, not being effective. Pro tip? Don't look beyond the comedy. It's just TV.
What is it about television that cannot portray correctly the offices that drive culture? Magazines, radio, newspaper, even TV stations are characterized highly counter to their actual structures and functions. Come on: the fashion magazine office in Ugly Betty looks more like it should be in the pages of its publication, rather than producing them. The receptionist faces the office in Just Shoot Me. 30 Rock and vintage classic The Mary Tyler Moore Show are more accurate representations of what a media office should and does normally resemble.
Why It's Unrealistic: Arbiters of culture are, by nature, messy. Really messy. There's a lot going on in those heads of theirs, and even more in their spaces. Quirky decorations abound, as well as samples, stacks of paper, and filing cabinets (digital or otherwise). These places thrive on fast-paced production and chaos. You can bet there's a mess somewhere within.
Your nemesis is our business.
Barely beating out Vandelay Industries and Veridian Dynamics, The Venture Bros.' organization of super-villains is about as outlandish as it gets. No one's sure how they're funded, Iggy Pop and Mark Twain have ties to the group, and one of their slogans is "Hate You Can Trust."
Why It's Unrealistic: Although an impressive amount of bureaucracy and red tape goes into their work, The Guild has a monopoly on "licensed aggression." Any first-year business school student or relatively bright chimpanzee can tell you that monopolies defy the value of competition in the marketplace, as well as drive down quality due to lack of choice. And even for evil, that dog won't hunt.