The average American spends about five hours a day watching TV. As we know, to keep up with this kind of media appetite, an ongoing stream of talent is needed. But, as a whole, what kind of roles are presenting themselves these days and why? Media trendsetter Lauren Zalaznick, who is credited with revamping the Bravo Network with shows like Project Runnway and Top Chef, looked into the value system of popular TV over the last 50 years. Using the top 10 Nielson rated shows to research America’s “social conscience,” she discovered just how political and economic factors influence our viewing habits. Every time there is a spike in unemployment rates, programs with fantasy and imaginative themes rise along with it. It’s no surprise we don’t want to watch shows about people struggling financially when we ourselves are feeling down as a whole. So, Archie Bunker was kicked off the networks in the late 1970’s when unemployment really started peeking, and was replaced with Dallas and Fantasy Island—shows featuring lavish lifestyles. And during the past 20 years, there has been a decline in the popularity of 1990’s sitcoms like Friends, Seinfeld, and Cheers. These humorous, comforting shows thrived when the economy was going strong. But in 2001, humor takes a back seat to programs featuring themes of judgment like Survivor, Dancing with the Stars, and American Idol in which people are given power to vote people off. This coincides with the 911 attacks, a presidential election decided by the supreme court, and anthrax scares. With unemployment so high these days, the affluence of Jersey Shore and Keeping Up with the Kardashians is looking good to American audiences. So, it’s not just what producers are seeking, it’s what we as a television audience are responding to. For more information, see Lauren speak at http://www.ted.com/talks/lauren_zalaznick.html.

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