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Let’s watch rich people throw away money!

Reality shows where the money and opulent lifestyle of the stars have long been a fixture on TV. From Robin Leach and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” to the present day, generations of TV viewers have grown up knowing more than they ever wanted to about how the other half lives. In better economic times, these shows can have a certain voyeuristic appeal. If I have money and job security, i
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Reality shows where the money and opulent lifestyle of the stars have long been a fixture on TV. From Robin Leach and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” to the present day, generations of TV viewers have grown up knowing more than they ever wanted to about how the other half lives.

In better economic times, these shows can have a certain voyeuristic appeal. If I have money and job security, it's hard to begrudge others who have more money and spend it foolishly, whether in Hollywood or on Wall Street. Few viewers will ever have that kind of cash to throw around, but it doesn’t matter — it’s all in good fun as long as we’re up and watching the shows to be entertained, not because we can't sleep for worrying about how to pay our bills.

Nowadays, a lot of folks are in the latter camp, which makes it excruciating to watch the clueless, pampered idle rich tooling around in their yachts. The worst of the reality TV shows are tone-deaf about the conspicuous and idiotic consumption of their subjects. Such shows seem like a relic from a time when we weren’t all tightening our belts and cutting our own budgets to the bone.

It goes beyond “The Hills” Heidi Montag and her four billion plastic surgeries, or the stars of “Bridezillas,” in which the lavish weddings take a back seat to the lunatic behavior of the brides. Even shows like “The Millionaire Matchmaker” on Bravo aren’t the worst offenders, since that show's big reveal is that sometimes rich people have problems meeting romantic partners because they are clueless yahoos. Stop the presses!

The issue comes with the shows that can be boiled down to the “Rich People Throwing Away Their Money” genre. What was once simply eye-roll inducing has become irrelevant and irritating.

‘Housewives’ just aren’t ‘Real’

Take the "Real Housewives" series, a coast to coast franchise that takes rich women and pretends that anyone cares about their insane spending and social habits. No, please. Take them all.

That’s not to say that the housewives haven’t been hit by the recession, particularly the Orange County crew. Jenna Keough left the show in season five as her real-estate business cratered, but that served as a cue for Alexis Ballino to join the party instead. Lynne Curtain got evicted and Tamra Vieth-Barney and husband Simon got a divorce, but that was tempered by the usual shallow, vacuous and opulent events that we’ve all grown to expect from the franchise.

And don’t worry about that unexpected brush of realism, because we're now getting “Real Housewives of Washington D.C.,” reportedly featuring Michaele Salahi, famous for gate-crashing a White House state dinner. This is where we are on television, apparently — sneak into the White House and you don’t get arrested, you get your own TV show. In the business world that’s called a moral hazard, but here it’s ratings gold.

For richer and for much, much, richer

That’s far from the only example, however. Take “Platinum Weddings,” where the bride and groom come secondary in each episode to the opulence of the occasion itself.

Of course, at least those celebrants are of age. The stars of MTV’s “My Super Sweet 16” just have rich parents to pay for everything. Because who doesn’t want to see Justin Combs use some of dad P. Diddy’s money for a birthday bash? Or for those who prefer the Quinceaneara, there’s always “Quiero Mis Quinces” on MTV Tr3s, because every child’s party should require a second mortgage.

MTV has also given us “Cribs” in MTV, CMT and teen versions. It’s fantastic that everyone wants to show off their fancy digs. Who wouldn’t? But did anyone really wonder where singer Colbie Caillat hangs out? Don’t we see enough of Kim Kardashian without having her show up here as well? And as a diehard Redskins fan, the only thing I think of when watching the DeAngelo Hall episode is that I hope he’s saving some of his money for leaner times, considering the Skins picked him up off the waiver wire.

Give me more singing contests, shows that strand people in the wilderness, unlikable housemates or fish-out-of-water travel shows. But enough of the “Rich People and Their Problems That Only They Can Relate To” shows.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington.