Archive for Friday, July 16, 2010

The Great Recession Cupcake theory

July 16, 2010

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When faced with the mysterious in life or on television, I comfort, or delude, myself with theories. Why, I wondered, would anyone watch, or for that matter produce and broadcast, something called “DC Cupcakes” (9 p.m., TLC)?

In a more prurient and frankly more interesting incarnation, “DC Cupcakes” could be the name of an escort service set in the seamy corridors of power. Sadly, this show is about two sisters who leave the corporate world to pursue their dream of opening a cupcake shop. And this being a documentary-style show, their business, Georgetown Cupcake, has become fabulously successful and inundated with customers, catering jobs and specialty orders.

Cupcakes? Who knew? Like TLC’s other bakery shows, “DC” demands that we really, deeply, truly care whether the two sisters, their ditzy mother and beleaguered baker and staff make it through a hectic Valentine’s Day, fulfill store orders and complete a special 1,000-mini-cupcake order for a charity event. “War and Peace” this is not.

My theory, and I’m sticking to it, is that as cable networks strive for ever tinier audiences, both the dramatic stakes and viewership get ever smaller.

In the old days, more than 20 million “ER” viewers followed life-and-death situations. Outsized consequences attracted ratings to match. But as broadcasters settle for a smaller slice of the pie (or cupcake, if you will), we’re dealing with rather more modest expectations. Will the cupcakes be delivered? Will mom stay out of the kitchen? Stay tuned.

Which leads me to a second theory, not my own. During the severe recession of the early 1980s, fancy gourmet cookie shops popped up and thrived despite the fact that they charged the then-exorbitant fee of $1 per cookie. Minds greater than mine theorized that when times were tough, people wanted to splurge on something small and give themselves a treat. Now beset with another economic downturn, people appear to be lining up around the block for a simple confection. Hey, I saw it on “DC Cupcakes.” It’s got to be true.

• Here’s another mystery. Why would anyone give a TV movie a bland and generic title like “The Jensen Project” (7 p.m., NBC)?

Kellie Martin of “ER” fame stars as Claire, the genius wife of genius Matt (Brady Smith) and mother of genius teen Brody (Justin Kelly), who leave their tranquil if dull lives to rejoin The Jensen Project, a philanthropic think tank that develops cutting-edge technology. In a crowded story that shoehorns about three movies into one, they set out to save the world from a disgruntled Jensenite who sells out secrets to a shadowy crime organization.

But along the way, there’s time for family bonding and self-discovery, and the realization that beset with so much furious multitasking, they’ve developed a failure to communicate.

“Jensen” is a joint production of Wal-Mart and P&G; (Procter & Gamble), and an effort to work more family-friendly programming into the network schedule. As such, “Jensen” is proof that good intentions do not always result in good movies.

Tonight’s other highlights

• Scheduled on “48 Hours Mystery” (7 p.m., CBS): a terrorized family’s yearlong ordeal.

• A project runs amok on “Eureka” (8 p.m., Syfy).

• Collision at sea on “Whale Wars” (8 p.m., Animal Planet).

• A carjacking turns into a hostage crisis on “Flashpoint” (9 p.m., CBS).

• Scheduled on “20/20” (9 p.m., ABC): A fetching yoga instructor is linked to the bludgeoning death of her husband.

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