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What Does TV Tell Us about How to Live?

TV shows such as Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it to Beaver have such iconic status that even if you are too young to have watched them when they first aired, you know all about them. The shows modeled one particular way to live – in a nuclear family household, with mom, dad, and the kids, and no one else.

I don’t know if there were other shows at the time that featured other ways of living – such as living alone, living with an extended family, or living with friends. (Do you?) If there were, they did not become the cultural touchstones that the Beaver did.

Now, in the 21st century, much has changed, both in how we actually live our lives, and in the models of living we see on TV. All sorts of ways of living are shown on television. Sure, sometimes the situations are played for laughs, but even in those instances, the shows invite viewers to contemplate a different way of living other than with only nuclear family members.

I’m impressed by how many shows airing since 2000 offer serious depictions of different ways of living, including nuanced portrayals of the good and the bad. I don’t think Ward and June Cleaver ever engaged in snide exchanges or iced each other out for days at a time, but lots of contemporary televised family members do just that – and often get over it.

Below are some of the examples of 21st century shows in which people live in all sorts of interesting ways. In some of these shows, living arrangements change over time. In several instances, I have never seen the shows and I’m just going by what I’ve heard, so do let me know if I am wrong. Also please nominate other shows that illustrate ways people live other than in a household with just mom, dad, and the kids.

More than One Generation Under the Same Roof

  • Blue Bloods
  • Brothers & Sisters
  • Six Feet Under
  • Modern Family
  • Parenthood

A Group of Friends Live Together Under the Same Roof

Grey’s Anatomy

Friends Have Places of Their Own, but Live Next Door to Each Other or Drop In on Each Other

  • Private Practice
  • House
  • NCIS

Single-Parent Households

The Good Wife

 Each Person or Family Has a Home of their Own within a Neighborhood in which the Neighbors Socialize (so, not the stereotype of people isolated in the suburbs)

Desperate Housewives

Are there any shows in which a married couple lives apart not because they are separated or have jobs in distant places, but because each person wants their own space?

What Does TV Tell Us about How to Live?

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2012). What Does TV Tell Us about How to Live?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Dec 2012
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