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Commentary: TV series imitate life after layoffs

David Bauder Associated Press

Wouldn’t it be cool if all the new TV series cultivated from the mortgage crisis added up to an unforeseen message: The crisis is over!

Remember, TV shows have unwittingly served as economic forecasters before – in the opposite direction.

In November 2000, Fox debuted “The $treet,” a swank, steamy drama about Wall Street high fliers. Less than three months earlier, TNT had premiered “Bull,” also a swank, steamy drama about Wall Street high fliers.

Both arose from the high-flying dot-com surge. But they were too late. The bubble had burst months earlier, and both shows were dead on arrival.

Now comes talk of several new shows that will address American life from the other side, trading on the current recession.

This fall, the Fox schedule may include “Two-Dollar Beer,” a comedy set in a fading blue-collar neighborhood in Detroit (and nicely timed to the auto industry’s implosion).

“Millionaire’s Club,” another Fox comedy in the works, focuses on get-rich-quick schemes hatched by its financially reeling heroes.

A candidate for the ABC schedule is “Canned,” about a group of friends who all get laid off the same day. “Little Piggy,” another comedy in development for ABC, is about a husband who becomes financially ruined and returns to the home in which he grew up.

There’s plenty of humor to be mined from corporate downsizing and marketplace corruption – at least, in the right hands.

A recent “30 Rock” episode made hay with the real-life money woes plaguing NBC. Forced to slash by 25 percent the budget for the show she produces, Liz Lemon wrestled with the idea of eliminating drinking straws from the refreshments table.

Last week, ABC’s office comedy “Better Off Ted” paid tribute to the sort of fiscal shell games that caused the mortgage meltdown. As ruthless power monger Veronica competed in a grade-school drive to sell gift-wrapping paper, she pitched a colleague on an investment opportunity she dubbed “gift-wrap derivatives.”

“You can’t lose,” Veronica assured him. “Multiple buyers owe a balance on payments for their gift wrap, so you buy shares of pooled debt, generating long-term dividends with minimal risk.”

“That’s how I bought my house,” her prospect replied. “I’m in!”

Presumably, mortgage-backed securities and pyramid schemes won’t be among the ideas pitched on “Shark Tank,” an unscripted series in development for ABC where rival entrepreneurs try to win financial backing from a panel of tycoons.

“Shark Tank” isn’t the only reality show taking its cue from the recession. Fox got plenty of attention (and a measure of disgust) with its announcement of “Someone’s Gotta Go,” a dog-eat-dog competition that invites employees of a troubled small business to choose who among them should be sacrificed to cut costs.

But amid all the gloomy coverage of economic conditions, hope has started to flicker that maybe things are bottoming out. What if history is repeating itself, and, again, TV programmers have gotten to the party late?

Wouldn’t it be a kick if “Someone’s Gotta Go,” along with the rest of the Recession TV trend, seemed out of fashion to viewers by the time they got a look?

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