The Last Page
Graeme Blundell watches business on the box
TELEVISION is going through a golden age and many highly regarded shows have business and the vagaries of corporate life at their centres. We’re not talking about the countless infotainment and reality-style money series like Shark Tank Australia or Mark Bouris’s The Apprentice Australia, but dramas and comedies with lessons about commerce, group dynamics, company culture, moving inventory and sales, management issues, entrepreneurship and dealing with the politically correct office.
This new series takes an inside look at the world of high finance by following the impending collision between two titanic figures: the hard-charging, politically savvy US attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), and the brilliant, ambitious and vindictive hedge-fund king Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis). It is loosely based on crusading federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, who upended New York politics with his pursuit of finance industry misdeeds. Writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien go to forensic lengths to capture the tussle between the law and the big end of town.
Undercover Boss (Lifestyle):
This nicely formatted factual show follows corporate executives as they slip anonymously into the rank and file of their own companies. Each week an executive leaves the comfort of the corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner structures of the corporation they lead. Working alongside their employees, the bosses learn about themselves – the effects their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their business, the perception of their company – and discover the unsung heroes of their workforce.
The Office (Presto):
Ricky Gervais co-writes, directs and stars in the original British version of the sitcom that became a worldwide comic phenomenon; the US version with Steve Carell ran for 212 episodes. David Brent is the nearly useless manager of a group of disgruntled, idiosyncratic employees of the Slough branch of the Wernham Hogg Paper Company in the heart of England. He blunders, blusters and bluffs his way through situations that will be bleakly familiar to anyone who has ever worked in an office.
The Hotel Inspector (Lifestyle):
This popular business improvement series features award-winning hotelier Alex Polizzi – brunette, sultry and very bossy. She comes from a long line of hoteliers, her grandfather being Lord Forte, her mother hotel designer Olga Polizzi and her uncle Rocco Forte still a player in the luxury European hotel market, with an eclectic and expanding portfolio. Polizzi is on a quest to salvage some of Britain’s worst-run hotels and bed-andbreakfast establishments. Energetic, intense and highly articulate, she rolls up her sleeves and gets stuck in to help – when she’s not chastising and scolding. No one on television says the F-word with such precision and sensuality. From staffing to menus and from decor to hygiene, it is a delight to watch her unleash her derision on cowhide bedspreads, four-person hot tubs, erotic artwork, origami toilet paper and disco balls.
Rob Sitch’s Tony is the beleaguered project manager of the National Building Authority, a government agency responsible for overseeing major infrastructure projects – most of which turn out to be politically motivated white elephants. He’s a bureaucrat who tries to accommodate everything and everybody while up to his neck in feasibility and scoping studies. Tony is earnest and ideological, but most of his time is spent worrying about Heart Health Week, constantly changing passwords and the quality of the coffee in his PC office.
Pawn Stars (A&E):
This is the global smash-hit show about the famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. The store’s owner is Rick Harrison, a man who knows how to buy and sell better than anyone on TV. This is perhaps the best example of the “hidden treasures” genre, as we learn the backstories of the bizarre items that come across the pawn shop countertops. Of course it happens only if the seller is prepared to bargain, haggle, barter, trade, traffic, wheeland-deal, and negotiate.
“Your number is?” the pawnbrokers ask straight off, or “What’s your best shot?” They are psychological experts of this dark art, but they show respect and understanding for the seller’s position and frame the negotiation early around mutual interests. Their minds are trained only on the end result, a process they deconstruct for us in the to-camera sessions following each sale.
Breaking Bad (Stan):
This compelling drama takes us into the ruthless depths of the drug trade – a world without corner offices and white collars, but business nonetheless. Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a struggling school chemistry teacher diagnosed with lung cancer, “breaks bad” with the realisation of just how pathetic his life is. He teams up with a hapless small-time dealer, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), and puts his expertise to work in a meth operation to secure his family’s financial future. The pair is thrust into a netherworld where murder and arrest lurk around every corner – and Walter at last becomes the man he wants to be. Many situations are recognisable to the entrepreneur: difficulties starting a business and breaking into a market, low employee morale, uncontained egos, poor understanding of duties and roles, unhappy customers, and disrespect for management.
The stars of Billions, from left: Malin Akerman, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff and Paul Giamatti