Television Viewing and Public Perceptions of Attorneys


  • The authors thank Thomas C. Binger, Jeanne Hieb, and James R. Smith, recent graduates of Augustana College, for their assistance in various phases of this study, and Robert Hawkins, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison, for his helpful comments on a previous draft of this article.


This investigation examines the way prime-time network television programming depicts attorneys, and the influence of these images on the public's perceptions of attorneys. In addition, the study examines some of the theoretical and methodological controversies identified with the cultivation explanation of the way television shapes perceptions of social reality. The results reveal that network prime-time television programming depictions of attorneys affect public perceptions of attorneys, particularly in terms of front region behaviors. The results involving attorneys’back region behaviors are mixed. In addition, the results indicate that content-specific viewing is a more reliable predictor than total viewing or select viewer sociodemographic variables of the public's tendency to perceive attorneys in the same way they are portrayed in prime-time television programming.