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Recession TV: The latest victims

The latest victims– How Alyssa Milano’s new show and current shows like ”Smallville” are hurt by the poor economy

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Banks may be crashing and the unemployment lines growing, but characters on the small screen are blissfully unaware. The gals of Gossip Girl aren’t moving their shopping sprees from Saks to Sears, and the Darlings of Dirty Sexy Money aren’t filing for bankruptcy. ”That’s not what people want to see,” says one net exec, ”more depressing stories.” Still, poke your head further into the TV landscape and you’ll start to see some fallout from the bad economy: Some shows, like The CW’s Smallville, are already working with stripped-down budgets, while ABC Studios and NBC Universal have called for cuts of 2 percent or more from all of their series producers. ”Where you feel it is in guest casting,” says one producer of a hit show. ”Not even when it comes to really expensive stars — midrange stars who cost over-the-top. That’s where we really can’t spend the money.”

Meanwhile, ABC is cutting development costs, too. It has reduced the episode order from 13 to 10 on two of its midseason dramas — Castle, starring Nathan Fillion, and The Unusuals, with Amber Tamblyn — while altogether dumping a comedy about single life starring Alyssa Milano. The network says it made the cutbacks because it had too much inventory (it still has new seasons of Scrubs and Lost waiting in the wings), but industry types suspect otherwise. ”It has everything to do with economics,” argues one studio topper. ”If you love a show, you do what you can to keep it.”

While existing shows won’t mess with their formulas, expect to find less escapist fare soon (just don’t call it ”depressing”!). A comedy script in the works at Fox called Millionaire’s Club seems all the more relevant now because it focuses on a group of regular Joes who pool their cash for get-rich-quick schemes. And actor-writer Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger) is developing a comedy called Two Dollar Beer, also for Fox, that focuses on a blue-collar ensemble in Buffalo. There’s even a script in the works at 20th Century Fox TV about a female mayor with a stay-at-home husband and a crazy family. Maybe they should hold an open casting call in Alaska. — Additional reporting by Michael Ausiello