You're on vacation. Or you're between jobs. Or maybe you just have the evening off. For whatever reason, you're not working and may have a little time to watch TV. Why not observe somebody else working, perhaps at a really interesting or odd job? Reality TV provides a peek at occupations that range from the lifesaving to the cringe-inducing. USA TODAY walks you through the employment line.
(ABC, Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET/PT)
The show: Surgeons, ER physicians, nurses and occasionally even a celebrity doctor, heart surgeon Mehmet Oz, are the real-life stars of this documentary look at famed New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Their bedside manners, which run the gamut from caring to arrogant, provide a human feel in a high-pressure environment.
The attraction: Life and death play out in this emotionally taut accounting of a year in a big-city hospital. Doctors save a mother of two with a brain tumor but can't help a man with advanced liver cancer. Nurses handle everything from a projectile-vomiting patient with HIV and hepatitis to a man suffering uncomfortable side effects from erectile-dysfunction medication ("It's alive," a nurse says). Oz realizes that a man with a heart ailment needs emotional support almost as much as he needs surgery. "If you don't have a reason for your heart to keep beating, it won't," he says. No wonder this guy has his own show.
Haunted Collector (Syfy, Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET/PT)
The show: Paranormal investigator John Zaffis and his team travel around the country, checking to see if buildings are haunted by spirits connected to specific objects. They use everything from electromotive force detectors to thermal imagers to transistor radios to try to pick up signals from the spooky tenants. Whether this is on the level or high-tech hokum, their business is clearly a success: They got a TV show out of it.
The attraction: If you can suspend disbelief, the mixing of elements of The Blair Witch Project and Ghostbusters can provide a bit of a scare and a few unintentional laughs. At a Nevada casino, the team investigates whether the ghost of a cheating gambler is infesting the kitchen and accompanying hotel. This being Las Vegas, the witnesses include a female impersonator.
Lizard Lick Towing (truTV, Monday, 10 p.m. ET/PT)
The show: Husband and wife Ron and Amy and their friend/co-worker Bobby operate this distinctively named towing business, which specializes in repossessions. In one episode, the guys discover a repo car at a car show and, under the guise of testing it, drive it right off the lot with the owner watching.
The attraction: The things Ron says and the things said about Ron. Ron on giving orders: "This isn't a democracy. This is a Ron-ocracy." Ron on an overheated engine: "This car here is hotter than a fire ant's nest in a flash flood." Somebody else on Ron's unconventional hairstyle: "You look like a skunk."
Small Town Security
(AMC, Sunday, 11 p.m. ET/PT)
The show: Employees of a security company in tiny Ringgold, Ga., actually do some work in between their long office conversations, including one about toilet-seat etiquette. Unlike NY Med, this is definitely not brain surgery.
The attraction: The people. Opinionated chief Joan Koplan, a liberal user of lipstick and eye shadow, makes for riveting TV, although in a very unorthodox way. When she isn't cursing like a sailor or talking about private parts, she's trying to relaunch her local-access cable show. She leads a crew of offbeat personalities. Former survivalist Dennis Croft, previously known as Denise, will do anything for Joan, including lighting a cigarette and putting it in her mouth, while her husband, Irwin, could be a candidate for Hoarders.
Beverly Hills Nannies
(ABC Family, Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET/PT)
The show: Think Downstairs, Upstairs. The nannies and mannies — sometimes to the stars — are the stars, although some of the people they work for steal the spotlight when their vain and mercurial natures are showcased. "Who wouldn't want to be me?" says one well-heeled mom, who takes great pride in her blond hair and curvy body. The kids of the 1% aren't boring, either; one 4-year-old wants a facial. But the job entails more than just taking care of the kids: They're asked to do everything from picking up dog poop to giving their employers foot rubs.
The attraction: High-altitude attitudes. The nannies tend to take on their employers' self-important airs. At one point, a few surmise that a particular nanny got hired because she's less attractive than the others (she's still good-looking) so as not to tempt the man of the house. One of those rejected philosophizes: "I mean, I'm hot. What can I say?"
Great Lake Warriors(History, Thursday, 10 ET/PT)
The show: Seasoned tug-boat captains and their crews brave wild winter months on the Great Lakes, breaking ice floes, pulling barges and helping other boats when they get into trouble. "Any one of the Great Lakes can make a boat disappear in a second," one captain says. As proof, the show harks back to the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a ship that sank in Lake Superior and was made famous by singer Gordon Lightfoot.
The attraction: The missions and the men. One captain must push a barge 20 miles while dealing with an inexperienced first mate whose mistakes put the ships in danger. Another must abandon his assignment to help a disabled freighter steer into port. Most of the men have spent their lives on the water. One captain lost his brother and grandfather on the unruly waters. Another was dropped off at the docks by his seafaring father when he was 15. They're hardly romantics. "The lake is not my mistress, just some dirty (expletive) I gotta work around," one captain says.
Shipping Wars(A&E, Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET/PT)
The show: Independent haulers try to outbid each other to win the right to transport large and often unwieldy items that other shippers won't touch, such as a giant Lego sculpture or a Ferris wheel. They take bold and ingenious chances, as when one driver cuts a Willie Mays statue in half to transport it from New York to San Francisco.
The attraction: There's the competition, as the male and female haulers try to fit the items on their trailers, deliver them on time and make a profit in the process. With nicknames including the Big Rig, the Cowgirl and the Rookie, drivers also get to show off quirky personalities. Then there are the customers. One about-to-be-dad is found crying in his living room, because he has to let his life-size Simpsons figures go.
WakeBrothers(MTV, Wednesday, 11 p.m. ET/PT)
The show: Brothers Phil and Bob Soven are professional wakeboarders, spending their days riding the waves outside their Florida lakeside home. Older brother Phil has the measured confidence of a champion, while Bob, he of the untameable red mane, is prone to high-decibel cockiness. Their training regimen seems to consist of non-stop wakeboarding parties with their buddies and a bevy of bikini-clad young women.
The attraction: Their rivalry, on everything from wakeboarding to sexual experiences. When Bob, now 19, boasts about losing his virginity, Phil says his partner was "gross" and Bob argues she wasn't. "And she didn't remember (it) the next day," Phil counters. "No, she didn't," Bob concedes. "Still counts!"