by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & Channels Flipping & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & ack in the salad days of 2003-06, when the housing market was shooting up, up and away, television reflected the nation's obsession. Homeowners glued to zillow.com had good reason to leave their laptops, as entire networks seemed to be devoted to finding, buying, fixing up and selling a house. This national addiction to housing porn, as some have called it, surely helped drive the boom, sucking in speculators and justifying those eye-popping prices.
Things have changed: Over the past 18 months, the housing market has ground to a halt. And on TV, while the shows remain, there are subtle changes. Even House Hunters, HGTV's highest rated show (weeknights at 10 pm), has gone international, showing savvy Americans looking for housing deals in South America.
And the flipping shows have changed, too. No longer is the payday (the $100,000 or more a flipper used to make on a project) enough payoff; now it's about the clash of personalities.
On Property Ladder (TLC, Saturdays at 6 pm), remodeling guru Kirsten Kemp watches as rookies make their first flips. The hapless flippers on Property Ladder invariably forget to do inspections and lose their nest eggs. And when the poor saps tell her they decided not to update the kitchen after all, Kirsten's disapproving gaze is priceless.
Over on Bravo, a second season of Flipping Out is set to start next month, starring the neurotic, arbitrary Jeff Lewis, who only deals in multi-million-dollar homes around Los Angeles. He berates his staff and agonizes over every detail. So far, high-end property in L.A. has avoided the bust, but even there, cracks are starting to show.
My favorite is Flip This House (A & amp;E, Saturdays at 11 pm), which follows the exploits of flippers in four cities. The San Antonio episodes are the best, featuring Armando Montelongo, a ruthless, semi-sleazy flipper whose idea of teambuilding is to get his subcontractors to try to tackle a greased pig while he mocks them. Behind the scenes, life has been tough on Armando -- he's been sued, alienated his brother (the family business dissolved in one memorable episode) and been indicted for breach of contract. On TV, he's Super Flipper Man -- the Hummer-driving jerk with the scantily clad wife who is exploiting immigrant labor while pocketing a cool profit. What's not to hate?
America may still be watching these TV house flippers, but instead of watching out of jealousy, now everybody's wondering when they'll lose their shirts like the rest of America.
National Spelling Bee
The TV wasteland is upon us: One way to wile away a couple hours without wallowing in repeats is the two-hour finale of the nation's top spelling bee. Tip: Always buy yourself time by asking to have your word used in a sentence. (Friday, 5/30, 8 pm, ABC)
Austin City Limits
Believe it or not, R.E.M. has been around 28 years. Austin City Limits is older: It opens its 34th season with the boys from Georgia. They'll feature songs from their new CD, Accelerate. (Friday, 5/30, 11 pm, PBS)
Million Dollar Password
The latest attempt at prime time game show glory has celebs (tonight it's Neil Patrick Harris and Rachael Ray) teaming up with regular folk to win the big bucks. Regis Philbin hosts. (Sunday, 6/1, 8 pm, CBS)
To describe this new series about swinging in the '70s, I'd like to quote Glen, H.I.'s boss in Raising Arizona: "I'm talkin' about l'amour! I'm talkin' that me and Dot are swingers -- as in 'to swing.' I'm talkin' about wife swappin'! I'm talking' about what they call nowadays open marriage. I'm talk... [H.I. punches Glen, H.I. loses job] (Thursday, 6/5, 10 pm, CBS)