Nobody goes to the movies or watches TV for an accurate depiction of "real" life. Entertainment often provides a circus mirror image of events and trends, offering a nearly perverse diversion from reality. During the Depression, half the movies seemed to be about millionaires throwing parties or Fred Astaire dancing in top hats and tails.
Escapist television reached an odd apotheosis during the tumultuous 1960s. Civil rights were never a problem in Mayberry. Who needed feminism when you could be "Bewitched" or serve your master on "I Dream of Jeannie"? The War on Poverty meant little to "The Beverly Hillbillies." And how did Gomer Pyle spend the decade in the Marines and never visit Vietnam? Shazam!
More recently, that nutty gang on "Friends" could live in palatial apartments and hardly ever go to work. Did they provide a vicarious thrill to the increasing number of 20- and even 30-something viewers still living at home with their parents?
It's little surprise to me that "Flipping Out" (9 p.m., Bravo) becomes the latest in a line of shows to celebrate real-estate speculation in the teeth of a souring housing market.
But as the title implies, this isn't only about real estate, it's about a colorful character, Jeff Lewis. In another decade, we may have called him a wild and crazy guy. He's an obsessive and compulsive businessman juggling half a dozen deals at a time and certain that he can make a bundle on each. And Jeff has a wacky crew of personal assistants - and a menagerie of pets, including a monkey.
Jeff's not worried that "For Sale" signs are spreading faster than crabgrass. He's too busy "Flipping Out" about his missing cat. How crazy!
Perhaps Bravo wants us to ride out the real-estate downturn watching Jeff's monkeyshines. But if Lewis dons a tux and starts singing "Let's Face the Music and Dance," then it's really time to get worried.
¢ The "Wide Angle" (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) documentary "Dishing Democracy" looks at the cast and crew of an Arab-language women's show modeled on "The View" that offers conversation and debate about controversial subjects to an audience that numbers in the hundreds of millions.
Along the way, it explores the cultural and political impact of commercial satellite television in a region that until recently was dominated by state-run media. "Dishing" is a rare and welcome program that allows Arab men and women to present themselves as three-dimensional human beings and discuss social and personal issues without refracting their stories through the lens of politics or the fear of terrorism.
Tonight's other highlights
- The top 10 compete on "America's Got Talent" (7 p.m., NBC).
- The transformation comes to an end on "Shaq's Big Challenge" (8 p.m., ABC).
- A blow to the head sends Carter spinning on "Eureka" (8 p.m., Sci Fi).
- Scheduled on "Primetime" (9 p.m., ABC): family secrets.
- Not even a blackout can keep George from planning to fire Billy, again, on "The Bronx Is Burning" (9 p.m., ESPN).
- Amateur sleuths sift evidence and try to solve real homicides on "Murder" (9 p.m., Spike), produced by the folks who brought you "The Real World."
Beneath its upbeat music and campy veneer, John Waters' 1988 comedy "Hairspray" (8 p.m., Family) sends up bigotry, snobbery and human cruelty. No wonder it has inspired a hit Broadway musical and another big-screen, big-star adaptation.