At Dissent, I break down the numbers on the jobs TV networks buy scripts about:

Imagine you live in a town of 174 people called “TV-ville.” Each person living there represents one of the pilot scripts bought by the four big TV networks for the upcoming fall season. (I’ve culled these from a list recently published by New York magazine, which has a brief description of each of those scripts. The 174 scripts I have included were those that mentioned someone’s job.) If you ever need law enforcement, you’re in luck. TV-ville is home to twenty-three cops, and if that’s not enough to make you feel safe, there are also seven CIA and FBI agents to back them up, as well as victimologists, spies, and fourteen investigators (public and private). If you get sick, you have twenty-four doctors to choose from. If you need to sue, you can call one of the town’s eighteen lawyers. But there’s a downside to living in TV-ville: It may take a while to get a table, because the whole town only has one waitress.

Here’s the rest.



  1. In your piece “Welcome to TV-ville” you get one fact (at least) absolutely wrong. Maybe because being a New Yorker cartoonist sounds wonderful, you concludee they are well paid. Big secret: they’re not. Even if you sold a cartoon to the NYer every week, which no one does, your NYer income would be less than $70,000.

    My career with the magazine was, I think more typical. I sold anywhere from 12 to 20 cartoons most years, sometimes less, a few times more. I’m not going to tell you exact figures because it’s nobody’s business. but suffice to say I took lots of other work, including for twenty years or so a full time newspaper job, to make ends meet. Every NYer cartoonist I know does other work and many struggle to make ends meet. It’s amusing to think that the only people who work hard and are underpaid are waitresses and truck drivers, but in the modern American economy you’ve got people from all walks of life working jobs that pay badly.

  2. Peter makes a good point as far as the true diversity of underpaid jobs, but it begs the question of whether the TV-portrayal is any more true to his experience in the field. Moreover, grouping cartoonists with the other well-to-do professions in the context of television seems to have less to do with saying they’re just as rich than that the focus is on the celebrity of a relatively obscure profession that’s nothing like what most Americans experience as work. I don’t deny that you and other New Yorker cartoonists have worked hard and been underpaid, but there are far, far more waitresses and truck-drivers in the US.

  3. Peter,

    Your point is well-taken that most people cartooning for the New Yorker are not wealthy. I imagined (and still do) that the New Yorker cartoonists in the pilot script were on staff and not freelancers, however untrue that may be the real life industry you describe. The pilot went unproduced, so we may not find out.

    I think if you take a look at some of my other work (take my report on working conditions at the Apple Store), it’s clear that I’m not a person who thinks only waitresses and truck drivers are working hard or being underpaid.

    Thanks for reading, and for sharing your own experience.

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