There are three types of scientists on TV:
1. Scientists in a show about medical or forensic science. These characters are quite well developed. They’re all different, they are carefully selected to cover different races and genders and attitudes. But they’re always at work, because the show is about their work.
2. The funny “mad scientist” type in any other type of TV show. These are usually stereotypically male and white, and either very old or nerdy little kids.
3. Someone who just happens to be a scientist, but this is otherwise irrelevant to the story line.
You’ll have no problem finding examples of type 1 and 2, but it’s number 3 that we could use more of.
Scientists go home after work, and they have neighbours there and a family. Likewise, many people who have nothing to do with science have friends or family working in science. But on TV everyone’s friends have office jobs or work in stores or public services.
The one example of a type 3 scientist on TV that I know of is Ross on Friends. He’s a paleontology professor, but this has nothing to do with the main story line. The fact that he has friends and a sister and spends a lot of time in a coffee shop is relevant to the plot, but his work is usually only mentioned as a side story. He meets people through his work, but he could meet people through any line of work.
His apparent abundance of spare time is totally unrealistic, but the fact that anyone might know and hang out with a scientist is not.
TV needs more characters like Ross. If you happen to be writing a sitcom or drama and are stuck with character development, why not make someone a scientist? It doesn’t have to be about their job. Sometimes my friends ask me how things at the lab are going, and I would say something like “It’s a bit stressy. We have to resubmit this article soon, and I’m repeating some experiments, but I’m on a deadline.” or I would say “Oh, it’s okay. Nothing special. I’m just analyzing some data so I’m at the computer most of the time.” See, they don’t really need to know the details, they understand what I mean when I say something like that, and then we just go on with watching movies or drinking beer or sitting at the real world’s equivalent of Coffee Perk.
This is the kind of representation scientists need more of on TV. We’ve all seen the Nerdy Scientists and the Hip Scientists. It’s time for the People That Happen To Be Scientists.