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Best Workplace TV Shows of the 1990s

Who doesn’t love the 90s? The hair. The fashion. And who can forget the workplace comedy shows?

Welcome to the 90s. You are now somewhere between rotary phones, the Walkman and the invention of all things “i”. For the majority of this decade we were entertained by President Bill Clinton. He became a role model for every man who ever wanted to play the saxophone or commit adultery. If the president could do it, why can’t I? Especially since he, very publicly, got away with it (The adultery, not playing the saxophone). Was life imitating art or vice versa?

In any event, the art of television was trying its best to entertain and distract a generation of people defined by Kurt Cobain, Michael Jordan and NSYNC. While we had the classics like Friends, Full House and Roseanne, the workplace sitcom always made us feel better about our jobs––or lack thereof. It was the 90s, after all.

The unemployment rate, which had gone down in the 80s, was back in full swing. Watching television helped keep your mind off of what wasn’t going into your wallet. Here are some of the funniest, groundbreaking, and eclectic variety of workplace shows that help make the 90s the awesome era that it was... at least when it came to being entertained.

NewsRadio

If you didn’t want to work at a radio station before, you did after watching this hilarious parody, NewsRadio. Based at the fictional WNYX in New York City, viewers were blessed with Phil Hartman’s final role until his death after the fourth season. You have to wonder if Radiohead took its name as a tribute to this entertaining, workplace sitcom. Dave Foley portrays Dave Nelson, the news director. He can never quite control his employees, which plays into the anxiety of every boss who ever watched the show; but made employees all over the country really happy.

Law & Order

This show about the criminal justice system most likely inspired many people to become a detective. Or a police officer. Or, perhaps, a smarter criminal. The show that started it all, Law & Order inspired the binge watching reruns that have become a habit of many. The camaraderie between the characters made you aspire to have those relationships at your workplace. The cast of characters went through a revolving door over the course of this long-lived series; most notably were Jerry Orbach, Sam Waterston, Steven Hill, Angie Harmon and S. Epatha Merkerson. The plots were well written and timely and though not based on any actual events, you always knew where the inspiration came from. 

The X-Files

FBI special agents everywhere rejoiced when their jobs were made to look really cool. Famous for being one of the longest running science fiction series in network television series, we were entertained by the dynamic sexual tension between Mulder and Scully. Played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, conspiracy theorists everywhere watched this show to discover the truth and then feel bad about their boring jobs. Was Mulder right–are there really aliens out there? Or was Scully, the medical doctor, correct in her outlook? Who knows. But it was really interesting to watch and we were able to do so for nine seasons. Which, on Mars, is probably even longer. 

Ally McBeal

This David E.Kelley classic made your law firm look really boring. Unless, of course, attorneys in your firm burst out into song and dance routines on a regular basis. With Calista Flockhart as the star, what she lacked in weight, she made up for in acting ability. The ensemble cast was incredible and the storylines were eccentric, funny and endearing. Aside from learning about the law, we all learned what a “wattle” was. Based on the fictional Boston law firm of Cage and Fish, McBeal comes to work there after leaving another firm. A sexual harassment lawyer would have a field day with this show. 

Frasier

A spin-off of the 80s classic, Cheers, Frasier brought fans to life in Seattle. A psychiatrist and now radio show host, Kelsey Grammer took the title role of the comedy very seriously. Clearly resonating with fans, Frasier was on the air for eleven seasons. A cast that made you want to go to work with them, the show was one of the most successful spin off series in the history of television. After splitting up with his wife Lillith, Frasier moves to his hometown to start over as a bachelor. He takes in his father, the delightful John Mahoney, and begins work at a call-in radio show. The work environment is seemingly relaxed and the calls are brilliant. You might not have wanted to be a psychiatrist after watching the show, but you certainly wanted to have a brother like David Hyde Pierce. Or a wife like Maris who never seemed to be around.

ER

Forget about working in an emergency room, you might want to consider being Michael Crichton. This doctor and author was the brilliant mind behind this show and Jurassic Park, among other impressive ventures. ER ran for 15 seasons on the NBC network, a record for a medical based drama. We religiously followed the lives of doctors, nurses and patients and for those who work in an actual ER, the drama wasn’t totally off. Taking place in a Chicago hospital, this was another look at a workplace environment that was a microcosm of every day life. Love, heartbreak, life and death–just another day in the office. George Clooney made his way into the homes of America and there was no looking back for him. The cast was plentiful and ranged from Top Gun’s Anthony Edwards to Bend it Like Beckham's Parminder Nagra. However, going to medical school doesn’t guarantee that you will end up with a nurse like Julianna Margulies.

Home Improvement

For every man who doesn’t know how to use a hammer, Home Improvement was their go-to show. Based on a home improvement television show, this hit comedy introduced us to Tim “The Toolman” Taylor and his family. Does Pamela Anderson work at your job? She did at this one. That will get you to work early, no matter what the occupation is. This was one of the most popular tv shows of the 90s for many reasons. Airing for eight seasons, it was also the launching point for Tim Allen’s career. Tool belt sales went up, as did trips to the emergency room for home repair related injuries.

Wings

If you ever considered a career in running a private one-plane commuter business, Wings was the show for you. Tim Daly and Steven Weber are brothers running Sandpiper Air in Nantucket, Massachusetts. This show made you want to be closer with your sibling or learn how to fly a plane. Really a win-win. Running for eight seasons, this show also featured Crystal Bernard and Tony Shalhoub. Since Wings was created and produced by the genius trio behind Cheers and Frasier, you were never surprised to see characters from those shows making an appearance.

NYPD Blue

This groundbreaking police drama brought nudity and four letter words to prime time television. With this came some FCC violations, but no one really cared because the show was so good. Working in a police precinct was made exciting and sexy, even if all of the characters weren’t of Rob Lowe beauty. The deep relationships formed were to be emulated by workplaces everywhere. Issues of sexuality and drug abuse were just the tip of the iceberg as to what this show delved into. Another Steven Bochco production, NYPD Blue allowed us to see Jimmy Smits and Kim Delany, Rick Schroder and Henry Simmons and the brilliant Dennis Franz show their brilliance. Nominated for 285 different awards, this show walked away with 84 of them; 20 of them being Emmys. 

Spin City

Is your job as exciting as being the Mayor of New York? Possibly, but if not, you got to live vicariously through this show. Spin City starred Michael J. Fox as the Deputy Mayor of New York, and Barry Bostwick as the city’s mayor. Fox’s character was in charge of ‘spinning’ all that went wrong in the office. The infamous Charlie Sheen took over this role when Fox had to leave because of his Parkinson’s diagnosis and the show was cancelled soon after. Maybe being the mayor of the greatest city in the world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Sports Night

Every sports-loving male or female dreams of hosting a nightly cable sports program. In this comedy, two best friends have this dream job. Rumor has it that it is based loosely on the ESPN SportsCenter team of Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann. Though starring Peter Krause and Josh Charles, written by the awesomely talented Aaron Sorkin, this show only lasted for two seasons. In 2013, TV Guide ranked Sports Night as #10 on their list of 60 shows that were “Cancelled Too Soon.” Sorkin went on to focus on The West Wing, but sportscasters everywhere were still appreciative of the nod their occupation received. 

Just Shoot Me

If you worked at Vogue or Elle, you would probably rather work at the fictional Blush. Airing for seven seasons on NBC, this comedy starred George Segal, Wendie Malick, Enrico Colantoni and David Spade. Jack Gallo (George Segal) is the magazine’s owner and Laura San Giacomo plays his daughter who starts working for the magazine. The glamorous life of working for a publication takes on a witty and, oftentimes, goofy approach. Since it was the 90s, folks still knew about the written word, this show would take on a whole different approach if it was decades later. The evolution of technology is alive and well; Makes the show even funnier when watched now.

The West Wing

Do folks who work in the White House watch a television show about working in the White House? Since the ratings were so high, it is quite possible. Created by Aaron Sorkin, viewers were able to find out what it is really like to President of the United States, sort of. Martin Sheen headed the greatest country in the world with a firm hand and a gentle heart. Everyone wanted a boss like Sheen (or a President like Sheen, for those of you who weren’t Clinton fans). In the course of its popularity, The West Wing won three Golden Globe Awards and 26 Emmy Awards. Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Rob Lowe–how could you not want to work with these amazingly talented human beings?

The Practice

Yet another impressive David E. Kelley creation, The Practice takes a more serious tone on life in a “real” law firm. With both topical and controversial legal issues, this drama helped you decide if law school was the right place for you. Water cooler conversation revolved around Dylan McDermott’s blue eyes and how hot he looked in a suit and tie. Or perhaps you would talk about one of the cases, whatever worked for you and your colleagues. For those of you Grey’s Anatomy fans, Jessica Capshaw portrays Jamie Stringer in this series which ran on ABC for eight seasons.

Chicago Hope

Another peek into what it is like to work in the medical field, David E. Kelley set this drama in a private hospital in Chicago. You would think that with NBC’s hit ER taking place in the Chicago that this doctor-centered drama might not stand a chance, but it lasted a respectable six seasons and gave actual folks in the medical profession a lot to talk about. Starring the talented song and dance man Mandy Patinkin and Adam Arkin, the eclectic cast was entertaining and engaging. Just the kind of characters you want at your actual job.

Banji Ganchrow
Banji Ganchrow

Self-proclaimed writer, masters in social work. Has driven 3 sons to 22 baseball stadiums. Hopes, because of this, they will never put her in a nursing home.

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Best Workplace TV Shows of the 1990s