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Archive for Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Feeling poor? Watch rich people on TV

January 9, 2008

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Viewers who love rich, spoiled and scheming New Yorkers can make a night of it this and every Wednesday. The poisonous prep-school melodrama "Gossip Girl" (8 p.m., CW) offers the first half of a privileged and petulant double feature with "Cashmere Mafia" (9 p.m., ABC).

On "Gossip Girl," the all-seeing and all-texting title character reveals to one and all that she's seen the newly returned social queen Serena van der Woodsen in a local pharmacy buying a pregnancy test. Over on "Cashmere Mafia," newly ensconced in its proper time slot, the happily married Zoe gets some unwanted competition from an attractive single mom for the attentions of her husband.

It remains to be seen whether these tales of sex in the city amongst the conspicuous consumption set will find an audience. They seem a tad out of sync with our uncertain times and business climate. Sometimes hard times make the failings of the fabulous all the more attractive. "Dallas" and "Dynasty" may have become metaphors for the Reagan era of boom and glitz, but they both debuted well before the economy picked up. Those champagne-and-shoulder-pads soaps appealed to a recession-plagued audience. Half of the memorable comedies of the 1930s seem to concern the foibles of people in formal wear. And it's not just Americans who favor this kind of escapism. For decades, Russian audiences have embraced a Mexican melodrama called "The Rich Also Cry."

¢ "Ghost Hunters International" (8 p.m., Sci Fi) takes the popular paranormal franchise overseas - and loses something in translation. Early on, one of the spectral investigators gushes about the antiquity of the Old World and the rich potential for spirit mining. "Europe is a much older country than America," she observes, revealing that she's about as good at geography as Kellie Pickler. Do the dead talk to the uneducated?

¢ The three-part documentary series "The Jewish Americans" (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) covers more than 350 years of an immigrant life that is both typical of the American experience and at the same time unique.

As the film makes clear, Jews have been both welcomed and rejected from the very beginning. During the 17th century, Jews seeking refuge from Brazil and elements of the Inquisition were at first denied entrance to New Amsterdam by leader Peter Stuyvesant, who feared that they would "infect" the Calvinist colony. But his superiors back in Holland soon overruled him, insisting that Jews would enrich the commercial life of the colony.

Filled with interviews, archival footage, vintage art, photos and historical re-enactments, "The Jewish Americans" shows how America has become the place where Jews have been free to practice, or not practice, their faith and explore their identities as never before.

¢ A timely installment of "Pioneers of Television" (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings) glances back at the history of the late-night talk show, paying homage to the innovations of Steve Allen, Jack Parr, Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett. It's fun to watch the Allen bits and see how much he influenced David Letterman, who has in turn influenced a younger generation of hosts.

Tonight's other highlights

¢ "Cavuto" (5 p.m., Fox Business Network) features an interview with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

¢ Scientists explore brain activity to see whether folks are "hardwired" for good or its alternative on "Explorer: The Science of Evil" (7 p.m., National Geographic).

¢ The list of suspects grows after the murder of a much-loathed hotelier on "CSI: NY" (9 p.m., CBS).

¢ A lab explosion exposes a scientist's controversial work on "Law & Order" (9 p.m., NBC).

¢ Contestants design for 16-year-old girls on "Project Runway" (9 p.m., Bravo).

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