Like the rest of us, the stars of lifestyle programming must adjust to the recession. Today’s Al Roker has highlighted budget-friendly beef dishes. The host of Rachael Ray, turning her attention to the “smartest shoppers in America,” recently aired a segment on “ Dollar-a-Day Dining.” Just this morning, The Martha Stewart Show taught laggardly Mother’s Day shoppers how to avoid shopping at all by crafting a “ coupon book for Mom” from scrapbook paper. It requires a subtle touch, this business of addressing gloom while staying peppy, but these pros all rise to the task of calming frayed nerves. Even Ray restrains her irritating yap, a subduing that might be an economic indicator itself.
We can only hope that the economy turns around before Martha has to start teaching how to spruce up a shanty with an embossed sheet-metal roof. Or before Rachael shares a recipe for heating canned beans over a trash-can fire. Until the financial apocalypse arrives and we have to burn our TVs for warmth anyway, savvy shoppers will be following the home-economic recovery plans presented by these established shows. That each of the above programs airs in the daytime makes them ideal for the schedule of both the traditional housewife and the laid-off Lehman Bros. investment banker too morose to get out of her California-king-size bed.
Further, each can try enduring new programs devoted to the new frugality. In the case of Sandra’s Money Saving Meals (Food Network, Sundays at noon ET), this task may prove too great a challenge for the housewife. However, the former I-banker, accustomed as she is to grating personalities and incessant displays of self-satisfaction, will lay eyes on host Sandra Lee and take a misty-eyed trip down memory lane.
The first installment of Money Saving Meals arrives under the title “Spring Brunch.” Here, Lee begins her journey into ridiculousness by showing up on set wearing a sweater with wide, tasseled sleeves. That sweater has no business within a panhandle’s distance of a stovetop. Then Lee starts talking, and cooking, and talking about what she’s cooking.
It is a fine idea to use day-old challah bread to make French toast, but Lee goes and smothers the stuff with brown-sugar-banana syrup, which might be an acceptable sauce if you have the palate of a child. Is Lee’s target audience in elementary school? Maybe. Later, giving a recipe for nonalcoholic mimosas, she notes that store-brand cider costs $2.49, as opposed to $3.49 for the name-brand item: “We’re talking about a difference of a dollar!”
Sandra also does division, smugly pointing out that an asparagus tart costing $5.84 and feeding eight people costs only 73 cents a serving. The glazy-eyed woman is too charmed with herself—lustily going, “Mmm, mmm” upon tasting a tart, calling it “gorgeous” with her mouth full—to address the matter of opportunity cost. Couldn’t you be, like, redeeming soda cans instead of frying your own doughnuts? Moreover, this is brunch, and you have no business working with three cups of hot canola oil while dealing with your hangover. A nonalcohol mimosa is not going to cut it. You’ve got to wake up whomever it is in your bed and take ‘em out for Bloody Marys. At six bucks each, those will set you back $84.
Lloyd Boston, a style expert familiar from Oprah and The View, arouses incalculably much less bile on the makeover show Closet Cases (Fine Living Network, Mondays at 10 p.m. ET). The premise is that Boston “rides to the rescue of the fashionably challenged” by getting them to rethink the clothes they already own: “He’ll boost their confidence and not their credit card bill.” Faced with a woman given to sporting a prairie dress—”That says, I might be jarring preserves” was his Queer Eye’d quip—Boston made her presentable enough to host a dinner party. But the show is perhaps most notable as a opportunity for the host to show off his impressive collection of V-neck sweaters. Aiming always to flatter a short neck, he has worn them in black, cream, moss, aqua, mauve, marigold, indigo, and what I believe is persimmon.
Perhaps no other channel has gotten into the penny-pinching business with the fervor of HGTV, Home & Garden Television. In January, it launched Income Property (Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET), a makeover show in which people renovate their houses so that they can take in tenants so that they don’t default on their mortgages. On For Rent (Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET), “desperate renters” settle for an apartment and then figure out how to make it habitable. With the remodeling show Bang for Your Buck (Fridays at 9:30 p.m. ET), the network slaps a recession-era catchphrase of a title onto a show about $35,000 bathroom renovations. And later this month comes HGTV’s $250,000 Challenge, in which families compete for a mortgage-payoff prize by updating their homes. According to a writer who knows more about real estate than I, as all adults do, this is “ an example of de-leveraging that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.” To every season turn, turn, turn, lest the audience turn the channel.