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Must-See First-Round Matchups, a Glaring Omission and the Winner Will be ...

March 12, 2012
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Welcome to the Workforce Pop Culture bracket challenge. As I understand it, what we're looking for is the entertainment "product" with a workforce theme that's had the most impact in the past 90 years.

But that definition isn't as straightforward as it sounds. By saying something has the most impact, that could be most memorable, most influential, most distinguished or, most ideally, a combination of all of these characteristics.

Furthermore, the difficulty—and fun—of picking our choices is compounded by the fact that we're comparing books to movies to songs to TV shows and that we are comparing these entertainments across a large amount of time—a movie made in the 1930s or 1940s let's say, vs. a TV show from the 1990s and 2000s.

A quick moment, before we continue, about me. I've been with Crain Communications Inc. since 1996. I was the media editor at Advertising Age for my first four years with the company, and ever since I've been running TVWeek. I had nothing to do with picking the contestants in the challenge nor their seeding—that was done by the Workforce staff and readers, and I think they've done a damn fine job. I live in Los Angeles with my wife, our four kids, three dogs, and Bob the goldfish, who's the size of a small barracuda.

The first thing one usually yelps about when looking at a round-robin tournament of any kind are the contestants that didn't make it into the tourney. For me the big glaring omission here is Tootsie, the very funny workplace comedy starring Dustin Hoffman. The workplace happens to be a daytime soap opera, where Hoffman is pretending to be an actress—Dorothy Michaels—who becomes one of the most popular players on the soap opera. It doesn't have a lot of the rapid-fire staccato dialogue of a His Girl Friday, but structurally it has a near perfect comedy buildup that makes it a comedic gem. And it's a terrific twist on the girl meets girl, er, boy, story.

That being said, most of the contestant choices in the challenge are stellar. So let's look at some of the individual first-round matches.

Seinfeld vs. Taxi might not seem like a close contest—Seinfeld is the No. 5 seed and Taxi" is the No. 12 in the Midwest bracket—but I say it's a close matchup. The approach of Taxi is workplace out. In other words, the taxi company is where all the characters work and the storylines take place there and then move out with the individual players. With Seinfeld, it's the opposite, with the characters being friends outside of work but who participate in a number of storylines that take you into the workplace of George or Elaine or Jerry—but not Kramer, who doesn't really have a job. Seinfeld almost always played it just for laughs, and it's clearly one of the funniest sitcoms ever. But Taxi played it for big laffs and pathos. One really cared about Alex Reiger, Elaine O'Connor Nardo and the rest of the wonderful gang who worked for one of the most despicable workplace bosses to ever grace a screen—big or small—Louie De Palma (Danny DeVito in the role that made him a household name). I say Taxi here, in an overtime upset.

I'm not predicting an upset in another notable contest: In the West bracket the No. 1 seed, a 2009 Oscar nominee for Best Picture, Up in the Air, faces a 1928 Oscar nominee for Best Picture, The Crowd, which is the No. 16 seed. Up in the Air will easily take it. One reason is that I'm betting most folks have never seen The Crowd. It's one of the classic must-sees of the silent film era. (Aside—one of the reasons I was displeased with The Artist getting the Academy Award this year for Best Picture is that I thought it was a clever trifle, a piffle. Truly great silent movies—of which The Crowd is one—are far more substantive.) Try and see The Crowd at some point on video if you can. It's about two people in the crowd of an urban city, how they meet, fall in love, start a family and the travails they face. It's one of the most influential movies ever made—visually, emotionally, aesthetically. At the very least please click here to see a YouTube clip of the most famous visual scene in the movie.

My wishful thinking, but not gonna happen upset in round one is the Midwest bracket battle between The Office and Something the Lord Made. The uber-popular The Office will take it, but I'm not a huge fan. On the other hand, Something the Lord Made is the movie I've recommended most often to friends and family over the past seven years. It's an HBO movie that won the Emmy for Best TV Movie in 2004, and you're forgiven for never having heard of it. The workplace in the film is labs and hospitals, first at Vanderbilt and then Johns Hopkins. The time is the 1930s and 1940s. The movie stars Alan Rickman and Mos Def in two stunning performances. Something the Lord Made is about race and racism, based on the true story of brilliant black man, Vivien Thomas (Def), and his relationship with a white surgeon, Alfred Blalock (Rickman) as they join together in the pioneering days of heart surgery.

I'll be mighty disappointed if the favorite, ER, the No. 4 seed, beats His Girl Friday, the No. 13 seed, in the South bracket. ER has a lot going for it. George Clooney. Twenty-three Emmys, including the 1996 statuette for Best Drama. George Clooney. It was the longest running (15 years) medical series in the history of TV. And, oh yeah, did I mention George Clooney? But to be truthful, did ER really have anything the pioneering medical shows on TV—Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare—didn't have?

His Girl Friday, on the other hand, is one of the top 10 movies ever made. The workplace is a newspaper (whatdayaknow, a journalist likes a movie about journalists). Made in 1940, it's based on the 1928 play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. But in this version director Howard Hawks had the brilliant idea of turning one of the main characters into a woman and making her the ex-wife of the other main character. The wisecracks fly at machine-gun pace in this one, and its technique of overlapping dialogue is still influential today. Please, please, let's cheer for His Girl Friday over ER.

Finally, my pick to win it all. As happens many times in these tournaments, the reason certain players are No. 1 seeds is because, well, they deserve to be. Such is the case in this tourney with the East bracket. The Mary Tyler Moore Show is a No. 1 seed because it's the best workplace show—comedy or drama—that has ever been on TV. I'll write more about this show in later rounds, as I expect it to decimate its competition and win the tourney.

Chuck Ross is the managing director of TVWeek.com, Workforce Management's sister website. He has been involved in the TV business ever since he sold cable TV subscriptions in Santa Monica, California, door-to-door in the mid- to late 1970s. He has had regular gigs reporting and/or editing about TV and advertising for Cablevision magazine,The Hollywood Reporter, the San Francisco Chronicle, Inside Media and Workforce sister publication Advertising Age. He first joined the predecessor to TVWeek, Electronic Media, in 2000. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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