Friday, April 16, 2010

NBC's "Parenthood," Actual Parenting and Economics

This television season NBC came out with a show called "Parenthood." I have two small children and thought I'd give it a chance. In last week's episode (#7--4/13/2010), two points struck me and the more that I think about them, the more unhappy I am with this show. They are both typical Hollywood mischaracterizations that shouldn't surprise me, but for some reason they struck a nerve.

Both of these points center around one character, Julia Braverman-Graham (played by Erika Christensen). The first incident centers on her niece's career day. The niece (Haddie) is supposed to shadow a family member and observe them at work. Since Julia is a high-powered corporate attorney, the experience has left Haddie infatuated with becoming a lawyer. The problem is that the mother (Kristina) feels diminished because she is only a stay-at-home mom. Mom attempts to impress Haddie by showing her some of the important work she did as a legislative deputy. Needless to say, Haddie is not impressed and Mom is saddened. The Hollywood-style resolution to the problem comes about when Dad takes Haddie for a bike ride and they end up at a park. The father explains that the park's existence is due to her mother's work forcing some company to make this concession during the permitting process.

One might think that I am upset because it is implying that only government is protecting green space and stopping evil corporations. Well, yes I am upset about that, but it's really secondary.

What really is chewing in my gut is that Mom only has worth because earlier in her life she did something outside of the home. In this episode, they could have talked about and highlighted or dare I say celebrated how important a stay-at-home mom is. That raising children and teaching the next generation values and civility are so important that extra income and outward status are foregone. Perhaps the creators, writers and producers of this show forgot that the name of the program is "Parenthood." I would have thought that a show with such a name might think that being a parent might be a good and celebrated vocation. Then again that's Hollywood thinking.

The second point comes from the conversation between the lawyer (Julia) and the niece (Haddie). As they chat at the exclusive restaurant for lunch, they talk about how Julia got interested in the law. Julia admits that it was because of the civil rights controversies. Haddie asks if that is interesting work. Julia says that the work she does centers on corporate mergers and acquisitions and not on civil rights issues.

Later in the episode, Juila talks to her husband about leaving the practice and going into this more worthy, more honorable field of law (civil rights law) and about getting out of the greedy, dirty, and rotten corporate law. (Okay, so that's my interpretation of the conversation, but you get the point.) The husband protests, "You love crushing little companies." Julia replies, "I know, I know, but what kind of person loves that?"

Again what is wrong here is that we only see half the picture. We need to take it the extra step. Suppose that a large company sees potential profit in the product of a smaller company. The larger company wants to acquire the smaller company. Now how does it do it? Let's assume that the small company is privately held. The large corporation negotiates a price, gives the owner a whole bunch of money, and then gains ownership and takes control.

In a market economy, the small company owner has complete freedom to take or reject the offer. The large company wants the owner to sell, so they need to offer a high price, but not too high a price. For every dollar spent on the acquisition, there will be one less dollar available to transform this small company into a large company. There will be one less dollar for new capital equipment, one less for marketing, one less for customer service and quality assurance. The large company needs to offer enough to get the owner to sell, but not so high that the project is no longer profitable. Julia's job is to make sure there is enough capital (money) left over after the acquisition so that it can be transformed into a large, profitable company that can serve ever more customers.

So am I surprised that Hollywood got it wrong again? No. I'm just a little disappointed, but then again, it did provide inspiration for this post.


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