I work at Raw TV, a multi award winning television production company that produces high-end documentaries, and docu-drama series for all major UK and US broadcasters including the BBC, Discovery and National Geographic.
We are currently developing a new engineering series. From reading all of the comments above, I'd welcome any suggestions you might have.
To @Duane, I don't agree with your statement that engineering is more complex than law or medicine. In fact many people would argue otherwise, it takes more years to become a doctor or a lawyer than to become an engineer! The problem I think is difficulty in translating engineering work into something exciting. Some criminal dramas, like CSI, try to do to some extent but the truth is engineering is just boring for all non-engineering people! Let's just do our engineering work and leave movies to Hollywood! Kris
As I see it, part of the problem is the complexity of the engineering job. Engineering difficult for most people to understand and it's rarely something that can be made into drama.
Police, Paramedics, Doctors... They all work in the public eye. People see them all the time and even if the tools of the trade aren't well understood by the general public, we've all seen them in use and they are familiar. Engineers don't work in public view.
When we do see "engineering" on TV or in movies, it's so blown out of realism that it's not really the same thing. Think of the "computer work" in "Swordfish", "The Net", "Tron" (though, I loved both Trons) and almost all other movies that have engineering in them. Those characters are to real engineers what Rambo is to real soldiering.
I can think of two examples of realish engineering / forensic investigation, but I have to go waaay back. "Fate is The Hunter": Glen Ford, the investigator goes through a process of trying to duplicate the circumstances surrounding an airline crash in precise detail.
The other is an old Jimmy Stewart movie: "No Highway in The Sky." Again, they do a pretty good job of following a debugging process and end with an example of one remote, un-considered factor being the key.
I feel compelled to point out that the second-longest-running, live-action, family sitcom on TV featured an aeronautical engineer and, when his work life spilled over into his personal life, did a pretty good job of realistically showing his work.
The show still had a strong following up until it was moved to a ridiculous time slot, which killed it. Too bad it's been 40 years since anyone thought fit to build My Three Sons around an engineer.
Frank's comment about Scotty is to the point. There are plenty of crisis situations, where racing the crisis is drama. Imagine a show about the engineers in the space program, trying to get somebody alive to the Moon and back before Russia does. Or a special about Apollo 13 from an engineer's point of view. A show about a technological arms race would have plenty of engineering driven situations. The engineering itself would not be the focus, rather the situation the engineers are trying to resolve, the brainstorms, the failed tests. You would only see the design work in passing. What it would show (again, in passing) would be the detail we get into. The amount of things that goes on inside our heads (again from Star Trek - McCoy: Aren't you supposed to be working on your time warp calculations? Spock (Raising an eyebrow): I am.) and the dependance of corporations, salesmen, and workers on our success (as in, they can't move until we succeed).
ok. you have to realize that McGyver back in a day was awesome and solved problems with ordinary items. That's what inspired us young'uns to look more closely at engineering--- and how to blow up our kitchen with common household items;)