As Economy Falls, Recession TV Revs Up

So, what about shows like "Gossip Girl" and "90210"? "The programming aimed at younger audiences remains a form of escapism," said TVSquad blog editor Joel Keller. "It's youthful voyeurism, it's wish fulfillment, it's fantasy. And that's what they want."

Escapist Fare Not Going Away

The younger a show's audience, the fewer recession plotlines we'll see. "Reality doesn't apply to the teen audiences these shows attract," said Rapping. "They're not worried about losing their jobs or houses. They want to live in the fantasy that they can go to private school in Prada, get those cushy jobs, drive the fancy cars."

But more grown-up TV fare can still offer an escape, says Tomashoff, who suggests self-contained crime shows and procedurals like "Law & Order" as the new escapism.

"Those shows remain the highest rated on TV," he said. "They set out a problem in the beginning of the hour, and by the end of the show, they've solved that problem. That's what people want when they think escapism. It's all about the happy endings, simplicity."

Which is why, Keller notes, it will also be tough for TV execs to work these downbeat story lines into comedic fare like "The Office."

"Dunder Mifflin may be doing poorly as it is," he said, referring to the fictional paper company the show is based on. "So it seems like it would be an organic story line for 'The Office.' But it's hard to get a laugh out of layoffs and foreclosures. Plus, because many of the shows end up syndicated, they want to stay timeless and upbeat. So, while you may see a passing reference on a show like that, recession plotlines will remain the realm of TV dramas."

Tomashoff suggested the first place viewers will really see recession realities seeping into stories will be on their favorite soap operas. In fact, reps from ABC affirmed recession-related plots, like company slowdowns and job-hunting issues would crop up on all three of its daytime dramas, "General Hospital," "All My Children" and "One Life to Live."

"Soaps are the most immediate scripted programming and they attract more of a mass audience," he said. "They want to reflect that audience. So, as they continue to play out dramas about class, we'll see the layoffs, the foreclosures, people living paycheck to paycheck. These are natural story lines for them."

Recession Plots Suited to Procedurals, Reality TV

Rapping sees recession plotlines finding a home in procedurals like "Law & Order."

"Those ripped from the headlines shows will reflect whatever the headlines are saying -- and these days, it's all about the economy," she said. "Even a show like 'House,' they don't really have to go there. But they're worrying about budget cuts at the hospital and laying people off. Writers are putting in those nods to reality as if to say, 'We get it, America. We know what you're going through.'"

But Rapping tempers that take with a caveat: "The networks aren't likely to broach touchy topics like health insurance," she said. "The bottom line is, it's a business. And after all, they're in the business of selling viewers to advertisers."

Reality shows, too, will get a dose of recession-related plots. MTV's "True Life," which produces hour-long documentaries on tough topics like eating disorders and drug problems, recently put out a casting call for a show potentially called "I Can't Afford My Lifestyle," looking for teens and 20-somethings who can't fund their extravagant habits in the wake of the recession.

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