Happy Labor Day, the one holiday television always ignores. Then again, appreciating working men and women has never been a big part of TV entertainment.
Blue-collar guys, from Ralph Kramden to Homer Simpson, have been portrayed as lovable lugs, prone to wild emotions and impetuous schemes. In contrast to popular culture’s celebration of the working man in the 1930s and 40s, television has generally portrayed them as nice, but not terribly smart or responsible.
For decades, the only characters to get any respect wore uniforms. But you rarely heard the cops on “NYPD Blue” or the nurses on “ER” talk much about their contracts or benefits. With the successful “Mike & Molly” (8:30 p.m., CBS), TV blends both traditions. Mike is a cop and a Kramdenesque slob.
Reality shows have become a perfect symbol of TV’s contempt for labor. The medium dispenses with unionized actors and scriptwriters and often portrays a world where people’s working hours are consigned to shopping or hobbies. And it’s a scary place where every performer is grateful to have a job because — as seen on “American Idol” — there are literally stadiums filled with applicants ready to take their places. And if they can’t do it fair and square, they’ll scheme and stab you in the back as on “Survivor.”
Don’t go looking for the history of Labor Day on the History Channel. It’s busy with four helpings of “Pawn Stars” (7 to 8 p.m. and 9 to 10 p.m.). Is there a better metaphor for a predatory economy than a pawn shop? Unless it’s the shows about people profiting from the purchase of foreclosed storage lockers on Spike and A&E.
Television tends to ignore labor and Labor Day because labor used to stand for a little something called solidarity. In the next few days we’ll hear a lot about the heroes of 9/11, particularly the cops and the firemen. But nobody will mention that they were all union members. Or that the spirit of solidarity that contributed to those unions may have contributed to their selfless deeds.
• “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” (8 p.m., Bravo) returns for a second season following the suicide of Russell, the husband of Taylor, one of the housewives. The premiere has been re-edited to reflect this sad reality.
Proof that there’s no publicity like tragedy, a tape of the 911 call from the suicide received wide play on tabloid entertainment “news.”
• Callie’s hospital becomes a hostage scene on the season finale of “The Glades” (9 p.m., A&E).
Tonight’s other highlights
• Catch 15 episodes of “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” (11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Travel).
• Only six remain on “Hell’s Kitchen” (7 p.m., Fox). Make that five (8 p.m.).
• “Live From the Essence Music Festival” (7 p.m., TV One).
• Martin Sheen narrates “9/11: Day That Changed the World” (7 p.m., Smithsonian).
• Mariska Hargitay narrates “Children of 9/11” (9 p.m., NBC).
• Pyrotechnics launch heavy metal on “Flying Anvils 2011” (9 p.m., Science). Puts “Punkin Chunkin” to shame.