Supply-Closet Sex and Instant DNA

I'm sure you're sick of hearing writers wail about how there's no way in hell Carrie Bradshaw could afford all those swanky shoes on the income a freelance journalist actually makes.

But "Sex and the City" isn't the only television show guilty of stretching the truth about my trade. On T.V., editors fly 3,000 miles to conduct a chat with a writer that would normally require a three-line e-mail. Book agents hop in a limo, cross a couple of state lines and surprise their authors for lunch. Aspiring authors make a couple of phone calls and land themselves a fat book advance in five minutes flat.

All dreamy scenarios, to be sure, and all pure fantasy.

But writing isn't the only profession that's been tarted up for the tube. Any CSI will tell you that running around a crime scene in heels in your Saturday night best is a recipe for blisters, sprained ankles and a hefty dry cleaning bill. And any lawyer or doctor will tell you that they don't have nearly as much supply-closet sex with their colleagues -- not to mention their clients and patients -- as their fictional T.V. counterparts do.

In fact, when I checked with my extended online network of working professionals, I found that everyone who'd ever toiled a day in their life had gripes about their T.V. alter egos:

Despite their televised versions, therapists protested they weren't all repressed bores and masseuses maintained they weren't all flaky sex addicts. Motivational speakers exclaimed they were not that irritatingly perky. Mediums transmitted that they didn't usually get bedside visits or phone calls from ghosts. I even heard from a commercial shark diver who snarled that he would never throw "whole cured hams, sides of beef and 20-pound frozen turkeys" into the sea to entice a Great White (apparently they prefer tuna).

Some workers have also found that the way their job is portrayed on TV can lead to unrealistic expectations about what they do for a living and how they should be doing it. See for yourself:

If You Want a Freebie, Call the Salvation Army

"The design and home improvement shows on T.V. cause us so much headache and heartburn," said Jim Grosspietsch, who co-owns and operates a $2 million-a-year interior design firm in Chicago.

On the "HGTV-type shows," he continued, designers often "redesign entire rooms or floors for homeowners, complete with space plans, elevations, color renderings, furniture selections, accessory selections and the like… and then present those plans and selections before they have been hired or paid."

Not so in the real world, he said, where "we are hired first based on past project work and we collect a retainer up front before we design anything."

Oh, and that $500 to $1,000 living room renovation you were expecting in 48 hours? Complete fiction.

"A 'typical' project really takes four or eight or 12 months," Grosspietsch said. In fact, just waiting for the new sofa to arrive can take two months.

And as for cost, T.V. viewers might want to add a couple of zeroes to the price tag to bring their expectations in line with reality.

'I'm a Doctor, Not a Miracle Worker!'

But it's not just interior designers who find themselves having to reset client expectations about how long it takes to get the job done (hint: it's much longer than an hour). It's also professional organizers, charity event planners, doctors, lawyers and criminal investigators.

In courtroom dramas, there is always "a lawsuit against a huge corporation that settles for millions by the end of the hour with no one aging a moment," said Bethany LaFlam, an attorney in Newport Beach, Calif. "In real life, it would likely take years to get a settlement of that magnitude finalized, and collecting on it is a whole other matter."

Then there's the tricky business of government budgets, which never seem to run out on T.V.

"The shows make it look like we have unlimited time and resources and all the personnel in the lab or medical examiner's office are allowed to concentrate all of their efforts on a single case," said forensic anthropologist Lenore Barbian, who worked extensively on identifying victims at the United 93 crash site after 9/11.

Nor do forensics experts have "fancy holograms," "flashing lights," "national missing persons databases" or other state-of-the-art gizmos to aid their analysis, said Barbian, who teaches at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

In fact, "Most forensic labs are in dingy basements with a fluorescent lamp," said William Bligh-Glover, a forensic pathologist who teaches at Case Western Reserve University.

A Commercial Break Does Not a Positive DNA Match Make

"In a criminal investigation, we constantly run into people who can't believe we can't solve the crimes like they do on 'CSI'," says Greg Sorenson, a detective in Santa Barbara.

"I worked a murder case which took us almost two years to solve. Constantly we were pressed by why physical evidence, especially DNA, can't be traced and found in a quick, sufficient manner."

But it's not just the public, the media and the victims' families who have questions. Sometimes it's the juries on criminal cases. And according to some detectives and forensics experts, this can make for a lot of courtroom confusion.

"Juries always think there should be DNA to back up any investigation," said Barbian.

But not only do DNA results take more than 10 minutes to obtain (a week or two is more like it), sometimes investigators can't "get a good sample" of DNA for a case, she said. Sometimes science fails us. Sometimes there isn't even the budget for DNA testing.

Kill Your Television?

Curious as to what Hollywood had to say for itself about these distortions of reality, I consulted Cheryl Cain, who's worked as a TV scriptwriter on shows such as "Roswell," "Threat Matrix" and the cult classic "Firefly."

"I know people think that we just write this stuff off the cuff," Cain said. But, "most of those shows have consultants. When I worked in production on 'Profiler,' our scripts always went out to an FBI consultant."

For research, Cain was sent by her producers to "FBI bomb school" and the CSI unit of the Los Angeles sheriff's office.

Still, "it's kind of a fine line sometimes between entertainment and credibility," she said.

So does this mean I'm fixing to put a bullet in my T.V., like forensic pathologist Bligh-Glover did because he'd grown so frustrated with the crime shows?


"Too many times people look at T.V. and they forget that what they're watching is a story," Cain said. "Even the reality shows, they shoot a ton of film and then they go and create a story from it. "You need to have those dramatic scenes or people aren't going to watch."

Hear, hear. Strip all that over-the-top sexual tension from the ER or the pie-in-the-sky holographic technology from the criminal investigation shows and you won't hold my interest for long. If I wanted a lesson in brain surgery or forensic science, I'd pick up a textbook -- not the remote.

This work is the opinion of the columnist, and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" and "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" (October 2008) — offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog,