Engineering Drama

I was just wondering why there aren’t any popular engineering based shows on television. There was never a shortage of police and lawyer shows when I was growing up. I am sure that anyone can name a whole bunch of them. There is also currently no shortage of medical nor science-based dramas today. There is even a successful series based on mathematics! But there really isn’t any popular engineering based show on television. The closest that we ever came to one was probably MacGuyver. I loved watching the show when I was a kid and I even got myself a penknife because of it. But the only beef that I have with the show is that he always solved any and every problem with his penknife, which is thoroughly unrealistic.

So, I was just musing to myself these last few days about what some of my friends said. An engineer’s job is not sufficiently dramatic enough for public consumption. There is plenty of drama in our work but it’s just not particularly exciting to people outside the field. If you stick a bunch of engineers in a room together, we can get very worked up over how every little thing works in this world. We are very passionate about what we do and our jobs affect the lives of everyone in this world, even if nobody will really realise it.

But, I don’t really see how our work can possibly excite regular people. Our daily jobs basically involve studying lots of documentation, attending endless meetings, and working with such total focus that we zone into our own little world where nothing else exists other than us and the work. We do not work with regular people and so, although our work touches their lives, it does not do it directly. So, there is no human drama either.

This isn’t to say that engineers do not lead regular lives. We do face all the same trials and tribulations as any other person in this world. We learn to handle them as well as we can. Sometimes, our intensive training in logic and reasoning is useful in helping us cope with the problems, while sometimes it can be a bane at our side. But I sincerely believe that if somebody wants to make a dramatic series about engineers, it is certainly possible. If they can turn a boring mathematician’s life into a successful series, they can certainly make an engineering series.

So, I doubt that drama is the main reason why it’s difficult to make a television series out of it. I think it’s the fact that the normal kind of work that we do, takes many months and possibly years. Engineers do not work in the here and now but we have to work on something that will only see the light of day in the distant future. Our work cannot be rushed simply because the laws of nature cannot be rushed. It isn’t going to be so interesting to watch a bunch of people go through the same daily mundane routine in order to slowly work towards building something beautiful.

The only people who can stomach this kind of drama are probably bird watchers and other engineers. But I still think that it’s possibly to make a show about engineers as long as we focus on the human element, rather than their jobs. The engineers could always have family who are non-engineers and we can borrow some drama from their work to spice things up. It is certainly something that can be done. Let’s give the series a classy French name, like “Ingenieurie” and make a serious show that highlights how, although engineers have a rather different take on life, we are still all the same in the end of the day.

PS: Remember to not make the show about an engineer saving the day with his penknife. We do not use penknives and we do not always save the day. In fact sometimes, people die when we are not careful with our work.

Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered/Professional Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

One thought on “Engineering Drama”

  1. Perhaps the problem lies that many show-makers are unable to understand engineering? I do not believe that it isn’t interesting (after all, you can even make a Japanese anime about Go, its the way you make it that makes it interesting :D)

    Just imagine the number of people complaining about its inaccuracies (medical shows have it bad enough)

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