Do shows like “Shipping Wars” (8 and 8:30 p.m., A&E) celebrate free enterprise? Or give it a bad name?
Economists use the term “race to the bottom” to describe (and decry) trade practices that destroy industries, economies and societies. Countries lower their standards of living to compete, only to fall victim to competitors willing to work for even less. The fruits of this process can be found at a Walmart near you.
‘‘Shipping Wars” is all about the race to the bottom. It follows four independent trucker/shippers who try to make a living transporting items too big, too unwieldy or too strange for established shippers to handle.
They try to undercut one another while bidding through an online shipping auction house. The trick is in knowing how low you can bid and still make money on the job after taking into account time and expenses, such as gas and insurance. Bidders often are too eager or inexperienced to strike that balance. Sometimes the experienced truckers goad the rookies into disastrous lowball bids just to “mess with them.”
Once the job is “won,” the truckers confront their tasks and shenanigans ensue. The notion of mining comedy from the slipping and sliding of unprofessional shippers is at least as old as Laurel and Hardy shorts, or silent movies.
‘‘Shipping Wars” is not the first series on cable, or even A&E, to showcase and celebrate cutthroat competition as entertainment. In fact, “Shipping Wars” airs between four episodes of “Storage Wars” (7, 7:30, 9 and 9:30 p.m.). Remember “Storage Wars”? That’s the program where they make a sport of bidding on the contents of lockers once rented by people too poor or unlucky to keep up their payments. What fun! Congratulations, A&E. What a programming sandwich! A dollop of desperation between slices of exploitation!
What’s next, A&E? “Eviction Wars”? “Fun With Foreclosures”? “I Wanna Sell My Kidney (To Pay Off My College Loans)”? How low can you go?
• Billy the Kid wasn’t even named “Billy the Kid.” His real name was Henry McCarty. The Wild West legend was born to Irish immigrants in a New York slum. And, as a young teen in New Mexico, he was more smitten with that territory’s Hispanic culture than with its cowboy ways. The 24th season premiere of “American Experience” (8 p.m., PBS) explores the facts behind the myth.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Jocks and singers join forces on “Glee” (7 p.m., Fox).
• Brandon Routh, Jesse Bradford and Sophia Bush star in the straight-to-DVD romantic comedy “Table for Three” (7 p.m., CW).
• A sight Jess can’t unsee on “New Girl” (8 p.m., Fox).
• “Dance Moms” (8 p.m., Lifetime) returns.
• Amy Sedaris guest-stars on “Raising Hope” (8:30 p.m., Fox).
• A suspect gets under Carrie’s skin on “Unforgettable” (9 p.m., CBS).
• Press coverage vexes Crosby on “Parenthood” (9 p.m., NBC).
• Murder undercover on “Body of Proof” (9 p.m., ABC).