Dr. Virago writes:

There’s also probably a reason — for good or for ill — why we don’t have TV shows about professors, and why popular culture often gets our profession so wrong.

In graduate school, when ensemble shows like Ally McBeal were all the rage, I was going about saying there should be a tv show about an academic department. Plenty of sex and scandal to throw in, right? Tenure battles, job market travails (now wouldn’t crazy interview committees make for some good scenes?), sleeping with students, sleeping with colleagues, etc.

After a couple of years of this, I was rewarded with:

Alias—Jennifer Garner’s character started out as a grad student by day, spy by night, though this was only apparent in two shows in season 1 and one show in season 2, when they graduated her right quick. Apparently making up excuses for why her paper was late (“I was stealing military data from China”) was not an engaging plotline.

The Education of Max Bickford—dear lord, freaking boring. The only sympathetic character was a 13-year old boy—every one else was just truly annoying. They did do a nice job with some storylines, though—the professor who insists her student don’t cheat until she tries Turnitin.com, the professor who pretended to have participated in the civil rights movement, the women’s college considering going co-ed.

Now we still have:

Numb3rs—a math professor helping the FBI solve crimes. Uh, not that good, but watchable.

If I extend the criteria to just watching PhDs on tv (which I do), then we also get:

Bones—forensic anthropologist assisted by several grad students.

Criminal Minds—FBI profilers. Hard to tell which ones are actually Ph.D.s, but there is Reid, stereotyped as the classic nerd and always referred to as “doctor.”

Doctor Reid is a genius who graduated from high school at age 12. Reid grew up learning nearly everything he knows from books.