Finally, Modern Family's Phil Dunphy (played by Ty Burrell) admitted that his real estate business is circling the drain. It's about time, I'd say, since real estate sales are down double digits in southern California, which is agent Phil's fictitious sandbox.
The recession has found its way into story lines on Parenthood -- Peter Krause's character, Adam Braverman, had to lay off seven workers from his shoe manufacturing firm -- and last season's Grey's Anatomy, when two hospitals merged resulting in layoffs -- including Dr. Izzie Stevens, one of the show's main characters played by Katherine Heigl. The gang on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia recently sold gas door-to-door to make money and in other episodes made all kinds of cuts to keep their bar afloat. Even this season's The Apprentice focused on a pool of jobless folk vying for the privilege of having The Donald as a boss.
The Writers Guild of America -- aka the screenwriters guild -- has been described as the most influential lobbying group in America. It's the place where American attitudes and perceptions are shaped and where, as a country, we were educated about civil rights, the war in Vietnam, gay rights and many other topics. And so it begs the question: What took Hollywood so long to realize that the best reality show isn't who can survive in the jungle eating bugs but rather who can withstand the rigors of the Great Recession? Mark Burnett, are you listening? (To be fair, screenwriters would love to see those unscripted shows disappear entirely from the airwaves; they blame those shows as one of the reasons that writers are sharing space in the poorhouse with the rest of us.)
So personally, I'm glad to see my favorite TV characters finally sharing my pain. It beats what I get from Washington.
What's interesting, though, is how the Great Depression's story was told so beautifully with tales that have become our classics -- such as The Grapes of Wrath and Ironweed -- and yet it's taken this long for Hollywood to catch up with the foreclosure rate. I wouldn't mind seeing the homicide team on Detroit 187 (my new must-watch TV show once you get past the idea that one of Tony Soprano's mob family is now a cop) investigate a suicide of a laid-off auto worker. Maybe one of the spooks on Covert Affairs could get pink-slipped and have to figure out how the skill of spying on people transitions into anything Facebook isn't already doing. Or perhaps there's even room for one of Hannah Montana's friends to announce they are moving into a rental because daddy lost his job and their house was sold in a short sale.
Hollywood really ought to be paying attention to us. During the country's deepest economic bust in the 1930s, Americans flocked to the movies -- perhaps to escape their troubles. An estimated 4.6 billion movie tickets a year were sold in the 1930s, which is triple the number sold in 2002 -- the best year of modern times. And the population during the Depression was less than half of today's.
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