On 'Staycation'? Don't Touch That Dial

There's tons of new TV to be consumed this summer -- if you know where to look.

July 25, 2009 — -- Staying home instead of taking that summer trip? Need something to take your mind off the economy, your job or lack thereof? Don't furrow (or furlough) your brow; tune in to Staycation TV. USA TODAY spent days and nights at home, combing through cable and syndicated offerings to unearth these nuggets — some obscure, some not — to air-condition the mind on those long, hot hours in your own living room. Dig in, and remember: The sun is still shining, somewhere.

Judgment day(time)

Start your hi-def holiday in court. TV judges are morning staples, and their litigants prove that somebody has it worse than you. Your-honor offerings range from the justice-is-served-in-your-face brio of "Judge Judy" ("That's what you owe him, you idiot!" she yells at one reckless dope) to the streetwise wit of "Judge Mathis" (about wronged Detroit women: "They don't run you over; they cut you"). After a husband says his mistress once joined his wife and him in a threesome, "Divorce Court's" Judge Lynn Toler could have been speaking of any number of litigants: "We are so deep in the trailer park I don't know what to do."

During rerun-heavy summer, other syndicated jurists packing the daytime docket include "Judge Joe Brown," "The People's Court," "Judge Jeanine Pirro," "Judge Alex," "Judge Hatchett," "Family Court with Judge Penny Brown Reynolds," "Cristina's Court," "Judge David Young" and "Judge Karen." Don't get confused about Judge Sonia. That was just a Senate confirmation hearing. (Check local listings.)

Couchside manner

Excess body hair and severe itching "down there" are not exactly fun-in-the-sun topics. But the engaging manner of "The Doctors" makes the medical advice go down easy. Plus there's no co-pay for daytime house visits. Four real doctors who might as well be from central casting — plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon, pediatrician Jim Sears, obstetrician/gynecologist Lisa Masterson and ER physician Travis Stork — discuss health topics both serious and silly, from breast cancer to "Does sex lead to sneezing?" They really seem to like sex talk, as does the studio audience. Pass the antihistamine. (Check local listings.)

Talk is cheap — amusement

Everybody knows "Oprah," "The View" and "Regis & Kelly." But have you seen "Wendy Williams," the longtime New York radio personality who comes to syndication (daytime, check local listings; weeknights, BET, 11 ET/PT) with a little grit, a lot of wigs and a trademark phrase, "How you doin'?" The show features a disco ball, celebrity guests and Wendy's advice, along with some brash attitude: "You don't want to know where this wig was last night when I was par-tay-ing."

For fun on a lower-key level, there's "The Bonnie Hunt Show" (check local listings.). Personable and wry, Hunt has long been a favorite of David Letterman, and she shares some of his traits, including playing off the audience and featuring her mother as a long-distance guest. In one episode, she re-enacted her appearance on "The View" with her all-male band playing Barbara Walters & Co.

And then for late-late-nighters, there's Fox News Channel's "Red Eye" (3 a.m. ET/midnight PT), which features host Greg Gutfeld and panelists riffing outrageously on the day's events. Warning: After watching, you may have trouble falling asleep.

Fun & games

If you like elimination shows (or just the prospect of someone else getting fired), a new entry is "Chopped" (Food Network, Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET/PT). It offers speed and volume: four chefs, three eliminations, one $10,000 prize winner, all in an hour. The cooks are given offbeat ingredients and just 20-30 minutes to make an appetizer, entree and dessert, resulting in such offerings as sea urchin French toast. Be sure to write down that recipe.

WE's "Most Popular" (Thursday, 10 p.m. ET/PT) is competition as a sociological study, with an audience eliminating contestants one by one based simply on whether they like them. The survivor gets the dough. Host Graham Norton is no shoulder to cry on, dismissing one loser with: "You're first to go, but it's a good way to beat the traffic."

More tough love comes on Discovery's "Cash Cab" (weekdays, 6:30 p.m. ET/PT), an offbeat quiz show where unsuspecting fares win money based on correctly answering a New York cabbie's questions. Losers get dumped at the curb. Wonder if they tip? (Many of these shows are rerun frequently day and night.)

Loud fireworks

On TruTV's "Man Vs. Cartoon" (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET/PT), a New Mexico engineering team (nerdus smartus) with too much time on its hands builds Wile E. Coyote's various contraptions to try to achieve his ever-thwarted goal: catching the Road Runner. With the famed animated clips as a set-up, a man on skates with a giant fan on his back catches up to a Road Runner doll on a moving truck, while a cannon shot at a fast-moving picture of the Road Runner is less successful. Brought to you by Acme.

In Cartoon Network's "Destroy Build Destroy" (today, 5:30 p.m. ET/PT; repeats at various times), real kids obliterate cars and boats and then rebuild them into odd-looking but functional vehicles. The competition, hosted by rocker Andrew W.K., is fine, but the real fun is the wanton destruction, courtesy of C-4 and bazookas. As one kid says after the bazooka strike, "Stuff was like 100 feet in the air. Smoke cloud and everything. It was great!"

Free home and yard advice, with attitude

Need inspiration for a home-improvement staycation? "King of Dirt" Gino Panaro, a New York landscaper, may be able to provide some as he mows down clients while beautifying their lawns. When one couple protest too much change, the DIY host bullies them in his Brooklyn accent: "If you thought I was gonna come here and put (in) a little mulch and a couple of marigolds, that ain't happening." While battling with his colleague and brother Ralph, he pulls off a great new look (Monday, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT).

Style's "Clean House:" Search for the Messiest Home in the Country (Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET/PT) is more of a cautionary tale. "Reno 911's" Niecy Nash and her reclamation crew reorganize cluttered nightmares into livable spaces in a competition show you probably wouldn't want to win. Now pick those clothes up off the floor.

Designers may find themselves dumped as clutter as competition heats up on the fourth season of HGTV "Design Star" (Sunday, 10 p.m. ET/PT). HGTV hosts Candice Olson ("Divine Design") and Genevieve Gorder ("Dear Genevieve") join Vern Yip ("Deserving Design") to evaluate 11 finalists on their design skills and ability to host a series, the prize for the winner. Some projects, such as transforming a garage into a usable space, reflect difficult economic times in which many people are redesigning rather than buying new homes. And a project at Kathy Griffin's house reflects the need for laughter in tough times.


•What's a vacation without home movies? Let these shows provide the video and snarky commentary and you bring the popcorn. That's the "TMZ" formula (check local listings), but it works in many genres. For entertainment mavens, there's "The Soup" (E!, Friday, 10 p.m. ET/PT, with many replays). For the tech savvy, there's G4's Attack of the Show (weeknights, 7 p.m. ET/PT). For comedy fans, there's Daniel Tosh scouring the Internet on Comedy Central's "Tosh.0" (Thursday, 10 p.m., ET/PT).

•Whatever your job status, take comfort you don't work with Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter of Comedy Central's "Michael & Michael Have Issues" (Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT). The two, who play the egotistical hosts of a comedy show within this comedy show, fight like babies behind the scenes when they're not specializing in — this is a warning for sensitive viewers — crude, bleep-infused humor.

•Up at night? So are the guys — a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost — who make unlikely roommates on BBC America's offbeat drama, "Being Human" (premieres Saturday, 9 p.m. ET/PT). The dialogue has that dry British wit we Yanks love. When the vampire invites fellow apartment tenants for tea, the sometimes-werewolf is exasperated at his lack of protocol: "They're British. You're not allowed to talk to your neighbors until you've nodded at them for 15 years."

•We're not recommending alcohol as an inexpensive vacation substitute (that's up to you), but for a nightcap, try Fine Living's "Three Sheets" (weeknights, 10 ET/PT, new episodes Monday). Zane Lamprey tries alcoholic potions all over the world. In New Zealand, he downs Kiwi moonshine, helps set a bar top on fire and tries canyon hanging — dropping 300 feet on a cord — as a hangover cure. Fine living, indeed.