Less opulence on TV next season

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Kai Ryssdal: It's pilot season in Hollywood. That's when the TV networks shop for new shows. You may have noticed that lately the small screen has been all about big money -- and everything it can buy -- whether you can afford it or not. But as Stacey Vanek-Smith reports, that message is so last season.


STACEY VANEK-SMITH: "Gossip Girl," "The Hills," "Million Dollar Listing," "Dirty Sexy Money" -- TV networks have been cramming the airwaves with the obscenely rich. And redefining what it means to be wealthy in the hedge-fund age. Take this scene from "Privileged," where a tutor tries to convince a rich student to work harder on an essay.

Scene from "Privileged": Form a real argument. Maybe throw in some bullet points? I don't need bullet points to get people to agree with me. I have a black AmEx Card for that.

A high-schooler with a black card? You can charge a jet on one of those. Not that anybody wants to be seen in a private jet these days. And the networks are figuring that out. ABC just OK'd "Canned"-- a sitcom about a group of friends who've lost their jobs. Then there's the comedy about a laid-off Wall Street hotshot who has to move back in with his parents. Andy Cohen oversees programming at Bravo, which airs reality shows like "The Real Housewives of New York" -- paging Harry Winston -- and "Millionaire Matchmaker."

ANDY COHEN: I think the less accessible wealth becomes, certainly, the palette will change. Would I green-light a new show about tricked-out people living their tricked-out lives and flaunting it? No.

And anyway, there's a lot less to flaunt. Some of the "Real Housewives" are having real money problems and "Million Dollar Listing" is looking a lot more like "Name Your Price." Please. Still, Cohen says, there's a limit to the amount of reality people want in their reality shows.

COHEN: Bravo's not in the business of creating slit-your-wrist TV. I think Bravo's responsibility during this economic time is to reflect the culture around us.

We liked the luxury crowd back when we thought we could be like them, says USC media expert Marty Kaplan. But now that the financial elite have taken their money -- and ours -- we want to watch them suffer a little.

MARTY KAPLAN: Recently, the rich have been the kind of demigods that people were supposed to aspire to. I think now, there's going to be a market in rich people with feet of clay and no doormen.

But doormen maybe getting their own show. Networks are snapping up "Roseanne"-style programs. Feeling like audiences and advertisers are ready to re-embrace the working man. Fox has a show called "Two Dollar Beer" in the works, about a blue-collar couple in Detroit. ABC is developing "Empire State," a love story between an iron worker and a real-estate heiress. Blue-collar-meets-blue-blood will also be a major plot line in another TV hit.

Scene from "Gossip Girl": Gossip Girl here. Your one and only source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan's elite.

"Gossip Girl" co-creator Stephane Savage says her team thought carefully about how to address the economic crisis.

STEPHANE SAVAGE: In a way, it's a way to rearticulate the class difference in the show.

Savage says the show's more middle-class characters, who are clinging to Manhattan's upper-crust, will lose their grip. But, she says, "Gossip Girl" will not tone down its signature over-the-top lifestyles and fashions.

SAVAGE: You're not going to see Lily Van Der Woodsen becoming a frugalista and you know, not caring about her art collection. Those characters still have plenty of money to fulfill all of our fantasies.

And fantasy of all kinds will be key, says TV historian Tim Brooks.

TIM BROOKS:We're kind of ready for more escapism basically. Life is handing us a heavy dose of reality right now. So shows that take us out of the real world. That's probably a trend we're going to see more of.

Shows like "Lost," which, thankfully, has nothing to do with the banking crisis. And "Heroes" about people with superpowers. And hey, who couldn't use a few of those right about now?

In Los Angeles, I'm Stacey Vanek-Smith for Marketplace.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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