9 to 5 (1980): In this workforce farce, three female employees—Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda), Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin) and Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton) have had it up to here—and maybe above “here”—with their chauvinistic boss Franklin M. Hart Jr. (Dabney Coleman), so they fantasize about ways to exact their revenge. When a mix-up has the women thinking they poisoned Hart’s coffee, they wind up kidnapping their boss and running the company themselves. The movie was a real eye-opener in terms equality for women in the workplace. The film was later made into a Broadway play.
Violet Newstead—”OK, OK, I’m gonna leave, but I’m gonna tell you one thing before I go: Don’t you ever refer to me as ‘your girl’ again.”
Up in the Air (2009): Released at the end of what economists tell us was the tail end of the Great Recession, Up in the Air stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a man who makes a living as a corporate downsizer. Who wouldn’t want that on their business card? Basically Bingham’s job is to do the dirty work—i.e., firing—so others don’t have to. But it gets better when Bingham is called back to his company’s office and introduced to a new hire, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) who has a better idea—instead of breaking the news to people face-to-face, why not do it via videoconferencing? At least she didn’t introduce ejector seats into the equation! The movie, directed by Jason Reitman, is based on the 2001 novel of the same name.
Ryan Bingham: [voiceover, reading a letter sent to a hiring manager interviewing Natalie] “To whom it may concern: I can’t begin to count the number of people I’ve fired in my lifetime. So many that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to actually hire someone. We’ve never met, but I know you’d be lucky to have Natalie Keener. My advice? Take her and don’t look back. She’ll be the best decision you’ve made in a long time.”
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77): Yes, there’s something about Mary. Moore plays the affable, smiling, hat tossing and “gonna make it after all” associate producer Mary Richards, a single career-minded woman in this groundbreaking, iconic, long-running comedy series, which also starred Ed Asner as gruff news director Lou Grant and Ted Knight as vain news anchor Ted Baxter. While the show was a hilarious look at the dynamics of a newsroom and its eccentric staff, The Mary Tyler Moore Show also confronted more serious topics such as: equal pay for women, premarital sex and homosexuality. One of the most talked-about episodes was “Chuckles Bites the Dust” about the ironic death of a clown—trampled by an elephant while dressed as a peanut—which TV Guide called the Greatest TV Episode of All Time. In the episode, the staff can’t keep from cracking jokes to Richards’ dismay. Of course at the funeral she loses her composure and can’t stop laughing, which appalls the rest of the staff. The show spurred three spinoffs: Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant.
Mary Richards: “Mr. Grant? Could I say what I wanted to say now? Please?”
Lou Grant: “OK, Mary.”
Mary Richards: “Well I just wanted to let you know that sometimes I get concerned about being a career woman. I get to thinking that my job is too important to me. And I tell myself that the people I work with are just the people I work with. But last night I thought what is family anyway? It’s the people who make you feel less alone and really loved.
[she sobs] And that’s what you’ve done for me. Thank you for beginning my family.”
Mad Men (2007-): Smoking, drinking and debauchery in the workplace? Absolutely! In this period piece set in the 1960s in a New York ad agency, this Emmy Award-winning AMC series stars Jon Hamm as Don Draper, a creative director at the Sterling Cooper agency. In later episodes he becomes a founding partner of Sterling Cooper Drapery Pryce. The series focuses on Draper’s life in and out of the office space, although the people in the office know very little about Draper’s past. In fact, the name Draper is an alias. Mad Men has stirred up some controversy, especially when it comes to issues it tackles on the show, including racism, anti-Semitism and sexism. The show does feature Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) as an eager woman looking to move up the corporate ladder, but juxtaposing that character, it also focuses on Betty Draper (January Jones), who is a glamorous housewife. Of course, Betty’s marriage to Don doesn’t survive his adulterous ways.
Don Draper: “If Greta’s research was any good I would have used it.”
Pete Campbell (Vincent Katheiser): “What are you talking about?”
Don Draper: “I’m saying I had a report just like that. And it’s not like there’s some magic machine that makes identical copies of things.”
The Office (U.S. version) (2005-): Regional manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell) is now gone from the show, but The Office continues to amuse millions of fans each week. Based on a British show with the same name, the sitcom is a mockumentary-style production that follows the often-eccentric characters who work at a paper-supply company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Tops on that eccentric list is Scott, who plays a clueless and often inappropriate boss, and Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), an oddball salesman who takes himself very seriously and covets Scott’s approval. Schrute also sees himself as the No. 2 person in the office—although everyone else sees him as nothing more than an oddball. One of his co-workers, Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) is famous for playing practical jokes on Dwight, including the time Jim locked Dwight in the conference room after he claimed it as his workspace.
Dwight Schrute: “Your pencils are creating a health hazard. I could fall and pierce an organ.”
The Devil Wears Prada (2006): Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway star in this movie adaptation of the novel bearing the same name. It’s a classic story, really. A young wide-eyed worker lands a seemingly awesome job that she hopes will propel her to a future career in journalism, only to have that dream squashed under the foot of a red stiletto heel. Andy Sachs (Hathaway) is that young worker who lands a job working as an assistant of Miranda Priestly (Streep) who is a high-powered editor of a fashion magazine. Priestly, as the movie’s title suggests, is the boss from hell. She is a condescending manager who doesn’t quite get the concept that the working day doesn’t last all day, and she often asks Sachs to accomplish impossible task.
Miranda Priestly: “I need the new Harry Potter book for the twins.”
Andy Sachs: “OK. OK. I’ll go down to Barnes & Noble right now.”
Miranda Priestly: [rolling her eyes] “Did you fall down and smack your little head on the pavement?”
Andy Sachs: “Not that I can recall.”
Miranda Priestly: “We have all the published Harry Potter books. The twins want to know what happens next.”
Andy Sachs: “You want the unpublished manuscript.”
Miranda Priestly: “Well, we know everyone in publishing, so it shouldn’t be a problem should it? And you can do anything. Right?”
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992): You want a cup of coffee? Sorry, “coffee is for closers.” With an all-star cast that includes Al Pacino as saleman Ricky Roma, Jack Lemmon as salesman Shelley “The Machine” Levene, Kevin Spacey as the heartless and despised—but needed as he dishes out the sales leads—office manager John Williamson, and Alec Baldwin as Blake, who comes in to be a, um, motivational speaker for the office, Glengarry Glen Ross is the juicy story of an office place that’s in a major slump. To help sell more properties, Blake is brought in to motivate the troops. Obviously disgusted by what he sees, he lays into Levene with the famous “coffee is for closers” line when he goes for a cup of java during Blake’s harangue, and then announces a simple addendum to the monthly sales contest: The best salesman gets a new Cadillac, the second-best seller gets a set of steak knives and the loser gets a one-way trip to the unemployment line. This intense flick shows what working in a hostile working environment is all about.
Dave Moss (Ed Harris): “We don’t gotta sit here and listen to this.”
Blake: “You certainly don’t pal, ’cause the good news is—you’re fired.”
Broadcast News (1987): Although Broadcast News was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Film and Best Actor and Actress, this ’80s gem somehow came up empty on Oscar night. This film about a television network stars William Hurt as face man/anchor Tom Grunick, Holly Hunter as Jane Craig a smart, talented producer, and Albert Brooks as Aaron Altman, a great writer and reporter who doesn’t have that anchorman look. The story revolves around the newsroom and the love triangle between Craig who is attracted to Grunick and vice versa, although he’s intimidated by her smarts, and Altman who is secretly crushing on Craig. Nothing like an office crush to bring out an uncomfortable working environment.
Aaron Altman: “I know you care about him. I’ve never seen you like this about anyone, so please don’t take it wrong when I tell you that I believe that Tom, while a very nice guy, is the Devil.”
Jane Craig: “This isn’t friendship.”
Aaron Altman: “What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I’m semiserious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing… he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance. … Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he’ll get all the great women.”
The Apprentice (2004-): Ever wonder what it would be like to work for The Donald? Or what it would be like to be that close to that hair? Well, you’re not alone. Dozens of people have signed up for and thousands of people have wanted the opportunity to become Donald Trump’s “apprentice” in this long-running reality show. In each episode, two people are chosen as project manager, and they are asked to lead their team to victory in a certain task by making the most money in a head-to-head competition by peddling products for various companies and developing marketing campaigns to sell, sell, sell. In the boardroom, Trump along with two other executives—which sometimes includes his son Donald Trump Jr. and daughter Ivanka Trump—grill candidates on their projects and often the contestants lay into each other as well to gain Trump’s approval. In most episodes, Trump gets to utter his now-famous line, “You’re fired” to one of the candidates. The winner of the show gets a job working for Mr. Trump, as he prefers to be called; the first winner of the show was Bill Rancic. More recently, the show has morphed into The Celebrity Apprentice, which pits A- and B- and sometimes C-listers head to head to see who gets to win cash for his or her charity.
Donald Trump: “That’s a big stretch.”
Sam Solovey (Contestant): “No, it’s not a big stretch for me, Mr. Trump, because I learn fast, I learn—”
Donald Trump: “You don’t believe in the genetic pool?”
Sam Solovey: “Excuse me?”
Donald Trump: “That what you have, you have?”
Sam Solovey: “I’ve got genetic pool big time, Mr. Trump.”
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949): George Orwell’s classic novel introduced the world to the Thought Police, “doublethink” (a term meaning the simultaneous acceptance of two contradictory beliefs) and, of course, Big Brother, an omnipresent, mustachioed ruler who may or may not be real and who is always watching people, including employees at their workstations. Creepy! In this dystopian novel that takes place in, um, oh, right, 1984 following a global atomic war, the main character, Winston Smith, works as an editor in the Minitrue RecDep also known as the Ministry of Truth. His job is to revise historical records and delete the existence of “unpersons,” those unfortunate folks who get vaporized. One of Smith’s former colleagues, Ampleforth, is jailed for leaving the word “God” in a Rudyard Kipling poem.
“They were born, they grew up in the gutters, they went to work at 12, they passed through a brief blossoming period of beauty and sexual desire, they married at 20, they were middle-aged at 30, they died, for the most part, at 60. Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer, and, above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds.”
Silkwood (1983): Nobody ever said it’s easy being a whistle-blower. The Karen Silkwood story is an extremely disturbing tale based on a true story that occurred in the early 1970s. Starring Meryl Streep as Silkwood, the film details the life of a union worker in a plutonium plant in Oklahoma who works long hours in an unsafe environment. Finally Silkwood decides to investigate and expose those safety violations, but her sleuthing may or may not have led to her being intentionally exposed to plutonium. The film ends with Silkwood’s death in a suspicious car accident at the age of 28. In real life, Silkwood’s family settled a willful-negligence lawsuit with the Kerr-McGee Corp. for more than $1 million, but the company admitted no guilt.
The film also stars Kurt Russell as Drew Stephens, Silkwood’s boyfriend, and Cher as Dolly Pelliker Silkwood’s lesbian friend.
Karen Silkwood: “You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?”
Mace Hurley (Bruce McGill): “I think you’d do just about anything to shut down this plant.”
30 Rock (2006-): Tina Fey’s creation is based, at least partly, on her experience when she was writing at Saturday Night Live. This multiaward-winning TV show takes viewers behind the scenes of a fictional comedy show. Fey stars as Liz Lemon who is the head writer of the TGS With Tracy Jordan show. 30 Rock also stars Tracy Morgan as the volatile Jordan and Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy, the over-the-top, often insulting network boss. Lemon’s constant struggle is balancing her work life with her personal life—not an easy task.
Jack: “I’m not a creative type like you, with your work sneakers and left-handedness.”
Lou Grant (1977-82): A spinoff of the classic sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show, this series took a dramatic twist—literally. Instead of keeping with the comedic theme of its progenitor, Lou Grant instead was a serious drama. The series focuses on Lou Grant (Ed Asner), who is a city editor at the fictitious Los Angeles Tribune, and his interaction with the reporters and other staff members, including the managing editor, Charlie Hume (Mason Adams). In the show, Lou moved to Los Angeles after everyone on The Mary Tyler Moore Show got fired. He would often clash with staff, including in the episode “Henhouse“ where Lou butts heads with the head of the women’s section of the newspaper over whose reporter should cover a murder.
Lou Grant: “Well, I haven’t gotten the memo yet, but any way that we can be protected from the nuts who call the city room would be great.”
Nancy Pynchon (Nancy Marchand): “That’s not what the memo says. I asked you to be courteous to the nuts who call the city room.”
Murphy Brown (1988-98): The eponymous main character in Murphy Brown played by Candice Bergen is one of the guys in this long-running comedy series. A recovering alcoholic, Brown is a television journalist with a ‘tood working for the FYI News Network, but she’s also very talented and a heavyweight in the broadcasting field. Brown isn’t afraid to pose the big questions to sources, even when her much younger boss tells her not to. For instance, in the pilot her boss lands her an interview with the person every news station is dying to get on the air, but on one condition—Brown can’t ask him “the question.” Of course, that’s not in Murphy’s nature so she opens the interview with the big question about whether the source had an affair with the woman running for vice president. Murphy Brown is noteworthy for focusing on a strong woman in the workplace who clearly is the leader of the outfit. The show got a big boost in 1992 when then-Vice President Dan Quayle mentioned the show and criticized its portrayal of an unwed mother (Murphy) in a speech—and, of course, Brown responded in a special 60-minute episode that kicked off the 1992-93 season.
[After learning that Murphy is pregnant]
Jim Dial (Charles Kimbrough): “Murphy, do you need any money?”
Murphy: “Jim, I make as much as you do.”
Jim: “Good God, Miles, is that true?”
Dilbert (1989-): Perhaps Dilbert’s office is not the typical office—or at least we hope it’s not—but this long-running comic strip has entertained readers for decades. The strip makes fun of the modern-day workplace. It also briefly made an appearance on the small screen. Dilbert is written and drawn by Scott Adams. In it, Dilbert is a geekified character with big glasses (and seemingly no eyes—or mouth for that matter) and a tie that seems to defy the laws of physics. He is an engineer who often comes up with let’s say bizarro inventions, such as a drug that “switches off the brain’s ability to make rational decisions” and an invention that his company wants to “turn into a death ray.” Dilbert’s trusty, er megalomaniac, pooch is named Dogbert who dreams of conquering the world. He also operates without the benefit of eyeballs or a mouth—but, yes, he does talk. Dilbert’s boss is a pointy-haired dude with no name, but in an office who can remember a name …? He is a bumbling micromanager and not the greatest strategist of all time. One of Dilbert’s co-workers is Wally, who does everything in his power to get out of doing work and is always on the lookout for a way to work on working the system.
Dilbert: “It looks like I’ll be exaggerating my accomplishments again this year.”
ER (1994-2009): The show that made George Clooney a household name with his do-things-my-way, womanizing Dr. Doug Ross character, ER graced the airwaves for 15 seasons. In that time the show covered numerous workplace-related topics, starting with the very first episode “24 Hours,” which dealt with overworked residents. It also featured such sensational storylines with doctors getting sick themselves—e.g., Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) who later in the show develops and then dies from brain cancer—and even stabbed, such as when Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle) and medical student Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) were attacked by a patient. Carter survived; Knight did not. But often the most interesting part of the show was the interaction between the doctors, nurses and executives in the Chicago-based emergency room. The staff often worked under impossible conditions in an ER that saw much more than its fair share of tragedy over the years. And some of the more interesting storylines revolved around a doctor or nurse, for instance, disobeying a superior in order to help a patient. ER was also known for occasionally employing creative formats for episodes, including the time in 1997 when the show was performed live—twice (once for the East Coast and then again for the West Coast).
Patient: “It’s all ending today! Today is the last day!’
Dr. John Carter: “Oh, great, I have to work. I’m always working when the world ends.”
Seinfeld (1989-98): A late-night syndication staple for many years now, the Seinfeld juggernaut continues. It has made roughly $3 billion since it went off the air. While the show about nothing is really something to behold, and while much of the show is about the failed relationships between Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and George Costanza (Jason Alexander), there is definitely a workforce angle as well. For instance, Jerry is a stand-up comic who isn’t in the traditional workforce, but George is often portrayed as either unemployed and living with his parents or a big-time executive with the New York Yankees. In one episode, George locks his keys in his car, but the miscue inadvertently impresses his boss, Matt Wilhelm (Richard Herd), and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner (Larry David, voice; and Lee Bear actor) as they think George is coming in early and staying late. Of course, hilarity ensues when the car gets dirty. And who can forget Elaine’s boss, the dense J. Peterman (John O’Hurley), who is constantly unintentionally bragging about his world travels and once fired Elaine because she failed a drug test after eating a poppy-seed muffin. Then there’s Jerry’s outlandish neighbor Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) who never works. However, in one episode he learns that the strike he’s been on against H&H Bagels has ended after 12 years, but he is the only person who remained on strike the entire time and is ready to return to work. But when Kramer asks for and is denied a vacation day to celebrate the made-up holiday Festivus, he goes back on strike.
Cushman (Paul Gleason): “I gotta tell you, you are the complete opposite of every applicant we’ve seen. Mr. Steinbrenner, sir. There’s someone here I’d like you to meet. This is Mr. Costanza. He is one of the applicants.”
George Steinbrenner: “Nice to meet you.”
George Costanza: “Well, I wish I could say the same, but I must say, with all due respect, I find it very hard to see the logic behind some of the moves you have made with this fine organization. In the past 20 years, you have caused myself and the city of New York a good deal of distress as we have watched you take our beloved Yankees and reduced them to a laughing stock, all for the glorification of your massive ego.”
George Steinbrenner: “Hire this man!”
Wall Street (1987): Wall Street for lack of a better word, is good. Wall Street is right; Wall Street works. With that, we’re sure you’ve all picked up on the play on Gordon Gekko’s (Michael Douglas) famous “greed is good speech.” This prophetic movie that also stars a young Charlie Sheen as Gekko mentee Bud Fox shows what happens in business when you cut corners to make a buck, or $18 billion as some former investment adviser made in a Ponzi scheme for the ages. What was his name again? But we digress. The bottom line here is corporate greed ain’t a good thing, and unethical practices will come back to haunt you. Bud changes his make-money-at-all-costs tune, however, when Gekko targets Bluestar Airlines, where Bud’s father (played by Sheen’s real-life dad, Martin Sheen) has worked for decades. Gekko’s plan is to break up the company and plunder the employee retirement fund. In 2010, a sequel, also directed by Oliver Stone, was made starring Douglas and Shia LaBeouf, but critics gave it mixed reviews and it didn’t captivate the way the first film did.
Gordon Gekko: “Lunch is for wimps.”
All in the Family (1968-79): Starring Carroll O’Connor as America’s “lovable bigot” Archie Bunker, this groundbreaking series details the life of a blue-collar worker who is absurdly prejudiced against just about every other race, religion or sexual orientation you can name and how he interacts with his family, including his liberal, often unemployed son-in-law, Mike (Rob Reiner). In one early episode, titled “Archie Is Worried About His Job,” Bunker can’t sleep waiting for a phone call to find out if he’s going to be laid off from his company. In fa