Today’s cuppa: Darjeeling tea
As we learned from yesterday’s bailout vote in the House of Representatives, with large numbers of Republicans and Democrats voting against the massive bill to stabilize Wall Street and the credit markets in the wake of a tidal wave of bad mortgage paper, lots of Americans were in no mood to hand over billions of dollars to investment bankers, financial titans and government officials.
Of course, when folks take a look at their IRAs and portfolios, they may have second thoughts, though I wouldn’t dare to speculate what those thoughts may be. What we do know is that the House is due back in session on Thursday to take another swing at it.
I’ll leave the analysis of all this to the political and financial big brains, but I do have some thoughts on what this might mean for the coming TV season — not thoughts, exactly, as much as questions. You’re the audience out there. You’re the ones with the answers.
What does this mean for TV shows about the super-rich and the merely very well-off? Will we still be inclined to watch the adventures of the Darling family, the grand clan of New York City, in ABC’s "Dirty Sexy Money?" Or will all that money just look dirty now?
Will wives and mothers be as sympathetic to the travails of the Manolo Blahnik-wearing, high-powered heroines of NBC’s "Lipstick Jungle," or will they just dismiss these gals as overdressed whiners?
When people are feeling OK about their prospects, they don’t mind aspirational programs that show them a world of wealth that, if their investments go right, they might one day inhabit. But when Wall Street threatens to torpedo Main Street, aspiration can turn to anger.
Of course, we aren’t at the end of this particular money madness, and things may yet turn around. But, the House doesn’t go back in session until Thursday, and "Dirty Sexy Money" starts its new season on Wednesday, Oct. 1 — and this fall has been hard on all season premieres.
On the unscripted front, what does this mean for all those home-redecorating shows? With the housing downturn hitting big-box home-improvement retailers and furniture stores, it’s evident that home-equity loans were fueling a chunk of the remodeling and redecorating boom. With that money drying up fast, how much interest are people going to have in high-end hardwood flooring, custom kitchen cabinets and stainless-steel appliances? Keeping food in the fridge may become far more important than just how many fancy bells and whistles the fridge has.
And obviously, these are hard times for house-flipping shows, such as TLC’s "Flip That House," A&E’s
"Flip This House," and TLC’s "Property Ladder." Some of them have adjusted in the last year, tacking on
epilogues that made it clear that few flippers were breaking even in reselling their properties, let alone making a profit — if, indeed, they could sell the property at all.
And TLC got proactive with "Hope for Your Home," a new show featuring
"Property Ladder" host Kirsten Kemp Becker. It brings in cash and construction experts to help distressed homeowners improve their properties so that they can either sell or refinance.
But the collapse of the sub-prime-mortgage market, the tightening of credit and the decline in home prices may have done mortal damage to this TV business model. Will these shows become one more casualty? Can they even be shown in repeats without generating scorn and derision from the viewers?
Back in the late ’70s, during another economic downturn, PBS came out with "This Old House," which focused on homeowners putting in "sweat equity" to remodel and renovate older homes, on a modest budget. Over time, the show changed its emphasis to high-end properties and top-of-the-line products,
turning it from a program for do-it-yourselfers to a big-budget construction and design showcase. It may be time for "This Old House" to rethink its mission and return to basics.
At the same time, PBS also premiered "The Victory Garden," a folksy show that featured backyard gardening tips — emphasizing fruit and vegetables as well as flowers and landscaping — along with segments on cooking with your own fresh produce. During the ’90s and beyond, it also got pretty fancy, talking about elaborate landscaping designs and traveling the world.
The show has not entirely abandoned basic gardening tips, but almost. Right now, a little advice on growing tomatoes and peppers next to the back deck might be a whole lot more useful than a discussion of exotic orchids or fabulous botanical gardens in distant lands.
Whatever happens in Congress, for all intents and purposes, the gravy train has run off the rails, and no one can predict when it will get back on track. It may be time for aspirational TV to become survival TV.