As Economy Falls, Recession TV Revs Up

Recession television is kicking into full gear.

The economic crisis continues to find its way into storylines, as on a recent episode of ABC's "Desperate Housewives," in which pizza shop owner Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) explains her downturn in business to a neighbor thusly: "When times get tough, people do without things like pizza."

But they don't do without TV, so the networks have responded with new shows that deal directly with the ailing economy. Several have shows in development to mirror the lives of viewers watching them.

ABC recently approved two series centered on the recession. The first, "Canned," follows what happens when several 20-something friends get fired from an investment bank and discover that maybe finance wasn't the right field for them after all.

The second, as-yet unnamed series, stars "Frasier" alum Kelsey Grammer as a Wall Street exec who leaves the world of finance to play "manny" to the family he hardly knows.

At Fox, actor-writer Mike Binder ("The Upside of Anger") is developing "Two-Dollar Beer," a comedy set in blue-collar Detroit, in which he'll also star.

Shawn Ryan, the man behind gritty dramas "The Shield" and "The Unit," is shopping a comedy called "The Millionaires Club" about a group of average Joes who pool their cash for various get-rich-quick schemes.

CBS is reportedly developing "Waiting to Die," a sitcom about two guys who are content with their lives though they have little going for them.

Then there's the networks' own cost-cutting measures that will result in programming shifts. When Jay Leno moves to 10 p.m. on NBC, the network will likely save millions of dollars by replacing dramas at $3 million an episode with his show, each of which is expected to cost less than $2 million.

Leno himself is reaching out to recession-effected viewers. He announced Monday that he'll host a free show April 7 at Michigan's Palace of Auburn Hills, in the suburbs of Detroit. Aimed at "anybody out of work in Detroit," attendees only have to say they are unemployed to get tickets to the event.

Recession TV Revives Old Trend

It's not the first time recession realities have found a place on the small screen. The 1970s Norman Lear-inspired recession realism of shows like "All in the Family," "Good Times" and "One Day at a Time" paved the way for the current crop of pilots.

"The recession is like the elephant in the room you can't avoid it," said pop culture expert Elayne Rapping. "These aren't the days of 'Dallas' and 'Dynasty.' That kind of opulence doesn't work anymore, even on TV. So, shows about the over-the-top lives of the filthy rich are going out of style."

Craig Tomashoff, TV Guide's executive editor, points to the demise of ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money" and the near-death state of NBC's "Lipstick Jungle" as evidence of that trend.

"There's a reason ABC killed 'Dirty, Sexy, Money,'" said Tomashoff. "It's all about extravagance and excess. Considering the current economic climate, people have really rejected it.

"TV producers are clearly aware of what's going on because they're experiencing it themselves," Tomashoff said. "Every day we hear about budget cuts or layoffs at NBC, Time Inc. or Viacom. It's not something you can really ignore. But real people don't care about that media insider stuff; they're facing their own set of problems. And that's what they want to see reflected on TV."

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