Small business is the second most admired institution in America, yet it’s rare to see small business owners on television. Cops? Sure. Dysfunctional families? Plenty. Even aliens. Small business owners? Not so many.
But if you look hard enough, you’ll find a few fun entrepreneurs when you kick back with some popcorn and turn on the tube.
Through social media, I asked small business owners to share their favorite TV small business characters. Many responded with sentiments along the lines of “Who has time for TV when you own a business?”
But others suggested some admirable, or at least entertaining, small business characters on TV:
Panelists, Shark Tank: This show, in which aspiring entrepreneurs pitch products to a panel of investors, was by far the most popular. I’ve met two entrepreneurs who’ve succeeded on Shark Tank, and they’ve told me that the pitching process actually takes many hours of being grilled by the panel, who ask probing and constructive questions.
The Simpsons: If you’ve ever wanted to see a “niche” business in action, then Suzanne Robertson suggests checking out “The Leftorium” on The Simpsons. But, like many small businesses, The Leftorium faces stiff competition from a big box retailer: The Southpaw Superstore.
Chip and Joanna Gaines, FixerUpper: Debra Weaver loves the show, partially because it actually drives traffic and sales to her shop, Vintage Now Modern in Greenville SC. Weaver stocks items to mimic the look fans see on the show.
Phil Dunfy, Modern Family: Phil’s my personal favorite. A real estate agent, Phil’s always hustling. He tries all kinds of marketing: signs on bus stops, free seminars, an ad on the side of his van. He holds lots of open houses and courts divorced women who could become his customers. Go Phil.
Jay Pritchett, Modern Family: Jay is a tough, old-school entrepreneur, who built a successful closet company, fighting off tough competitors like “Closets, Closets, Closets.” He’s had to deal with a new generation of customers, wanting innovations. And now Jay’s facing a situation facing many real-life entrepreneurs: how to transition his company to the next generation.
Stuart, The Big Bang Theory: Daniel Henn feels bad for Stuart, the comic book store owner, and he hopes someone will come up with a better marketing plan for him.
Michael Kyle, My Wife and Kids: Reader Hernandez Carlos misses the Damon Wayans truck driving company owner on this comedy. He was funny and taught his kids some important life lessons.
Alicia Florek and colleagues, The Good Wife: It’s rare to see a TV law firm treated like a small business, but this show does. They deal with retaining clients, bankruptcies, leases, employee revolts, partnership fights. And the firm’s top lawyer, Diane Lockhart, is one tough cookie and good businesswoman.
Nick Miller and Schmidt, New Girl: Nick had worked in a bar and knew the business. But as in real life, the people who know how to run a business often don’t have money to buy it. That’s where Schmidt comes in, bringing in cash as a silent partner. But, as in real life, silent partners often aren’t silent.
Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock: Yes, detectives can be small business people too. The classic mystery tale has a modern twist in this PBS version. Reader “P2B Investor” points out that business picked up for Holmes after his sidekick, Dr. John Watson, started a blog.
Tom Haverford, Parks and Recreation: Tom tries one business after another while still keeping his day job at the Pawnee Department of Parks and Recreation. He has failure, success, failure, success. Just like many entrepreneurs.
Mrs. Patmore, Downton Abbey: Who knew that long-suffering cook Mrs. Patmore had an entrepreneurial streak? She’s opening her own bed-and-breakfast, foreshadowing the rise of small business and the middle class in the 20th century. Soon, there will be many more Mrs. Patmores in England and America.
Sex and the City: Public Relations hotshot Samantha was tough and clever and hard-working. It was believable that she was so successful. But Carrie? A newspaper columnist who could afford a closet full of Jimmy Choo and Christian Laboutin shoes? Never!
Who’s your favorite small business character on TV? Share with me on Facebook.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2016
This article originally ran in USA Today on March 4, 2016