October 24th, 2008
10:49 AM ET

What happened to 'real' TV characters?

At a time when presidential candidates regularly take policy advice from Joe the Plumber, Dan the Drywall Guy is conspicuously silent.

Twenty years ago this week, “Roseanne,” a TV series about a working-class family facing daily challenges with a blue-collar brand of humor, premiered on ABC. Today, with the state of the economy so bleak, more and more families - like “Roseanne’s” Conner clan - are clipping coupons and forgoing luxuries, making the message of the show perhaps more relevant today than ever.

And yet today it seems as if every character on television is upscale. While wealth is not synonymous with love and security, television has all but abandoned blue-collar characters. Modern-day shows tend to mock the working class and lack the soul that "Roseanne" once expressed so exuberantly.

What happened to shows about people who don't have Birkin bags or slick luxury cars? The character of Naomi on “90210” seems to have a Chanel bag for every day of the school week. Members of the “Gossip Girl” cast can often be heard click-clacking along Manhattan sidewalks in Christian Louboutin heels.

The argument can be made, of course, that people watch TV as an escape and that they no more expect to step into a pair of Jimmy Choos than they expect snow flurries in Miami in August. Then again, there are Web sites devoted to hunting down clothing and accessories that actors wear in TV and movies. So, are everyday people looking at shows as fantasy - or are they maxing out their credit cards on Gucci sunglasses?

In some ways, the Conners were worse off than many of us. Their dishwasher-less house was a bit of a dump, with mismatched furniture and haphazard decor. They argued over relationships and money, and were fluent in sarcasm.

But the Conners were lucky in other ways. Their house may have been dumpy, but it was cozy and soulful. (Three cheers for the set decorators!) And, at the end of the day (or 30 minutes), they remained a tight-knit family, and their love and sensitivity was something that could not be bought. They didn't need a Sub-Zero refrigerator to show the world they were a force to be reckoned with. Would it be that today’s TV show characters could do the same.

– Katie McLaughlin, CNN

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