Here's a reality game-show concept: Well-groomed guys in $3,000 suits hunker down with fat wallets, while scruffy mobs grab for their cash.
Oh, wait. That is reality. Would-be producers are coming out of the woodwork to pitch the networks scads of fake-o reality shows to fill up prime time as the writers strike enters its ninth week.
Where does that leave the viewer? Most sitcoms are in reruns, though the CW's admirable Everybody Hates Chris and Aliens in America may pick up new viewers with a stockpile of fresh episodes. Among dramas, it's rerun city after a few favorites, including CSI, House, Desperate Housewives, Brothers & Sisters, air their remaining one or two new episodes.
But don't despair. With the strike looming, the networks have been husbanding quality material since summer. Many old friends - Lost, Law & Order, Jericho and others - will reappear with new episodes this month. Some promising new comedies and dramas are also ready to go.
That doesn't mean we'll be spared from the CW's as yet unscheduled Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious; Fox's When Women Rule the World (premieres March 3), NBC's American Gladiators (Jan. 6) or ABC's Oprah's Big Give (March 2). And that's just on the big networks.
It's a train wreck on cable. Surprisingly, there are no actual train wrecks, but you can watch How to Look Good Naked (Jan. 4, Lifetime), Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew (Jan. 10, VH-1); Paradise Hotel 2 (Feb. 4, MyNetwork TV), complete with raunchy version for late-night viewing. A & E even has Parking Wars (Jan. 8), following the exploits of those love muffins at the Philadelphia Parking Authority. (Andy Warhol was right!)
Not wanting to air 8 Hours and 44 Minutes, Fox has shelved the already-made episodes of 24. The show will return when it's clear producers can deliver an entire day in the life of Jack Bauer, and that might not be until the fall.
But the lineup of returning shows is still impressive.
Law & Order is back tonight, and on Jan. 9, NBC will begin broadcasting all the episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent that have appeared this fall on cable's USA Network. Drew Carey's addictive polling quiz show, Power of 10, also returns tonight, on CBS.
HBO's woefully overlooked The Wire starts its last season on Sunday. NBC's Medium (Jan. 7) may find the larger audience it deserves, with less strenuous competition and Anjelica Huston guest-starring in the first six episodes.
When the CW brings back One Tree Hill Jan. 8, the kids will have aged four years, which puts them only eight years younger than the actors who play them.
Prison Break resumes on Fox Jan. 14, and the Earth will pause as American Idol re-launches the next day. It may pause again, at least on the screen, when ABC returns to the island of the Lost Jan. 31, and the show battles CSI reruns Thursdays into spring.
Old Christine returns Feb. 4 with new adventures on CBS, and the apocalypse continues on CBS's Jericho on Feb. 12, the same night Big Brother makes its winter debut. That was an easy strike-inspired fix, since the big box that's home to the smarmy contestants sits in the CBS parking lot in L.A.
Also coming back: Survivor, Dancing With the Stars, According to Jim, Supernanny, Wife Swap, The Bachelor, The Biggest Loser, The Apprentice (this time with "celebrities").
Fox has the most widely anticipated new drama, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Jan. 13). The network calls it a "reinvention" of the Terminator movie series, and the pilot is packed with action. Less eagerly anticipated: New Amsterdam (Feb. 22), about a New York cop who has been cursed with eternal life.
Premiering opposite Sarah on CBS: Comanche Moon, Larry McMurtry's prequel to Lonesome Dove. The six-hour mini stars Val Kilmer, Rachel Griffiths (she's everywhere!), Linda Cardellini and Wes Studi. Can cowboys and Indians beat deadly cyborgs and off-key singers?
ABC and NBC will present dueling, hour-long reinventions of Sex and the City. Cashmere Mafia (ABC, Jan. 6) leads with Lucy Liu, and comes from Darren Star, executive producer of the HBO comedy. Lipstick Jungle (NBC, Feb. 7) stars Brooke Shields, among others, and comes from Candace Bushnell, who wrote the book.
NBC went into a new box to find quarterlife, plucking it from the Internet, where thirtysomething producers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick launched the series about young adults three years after ABC passed on the original pilot. It premieres Feb. 18.
A CBS comedy, The Captain (Feb. 4), presents what sounds like a lovable laugh pairing, Raquel Welch and Jeffrey Tambor. They're two of the wackos who inhabit a Hollywood apartment building.
Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino returns to TV with a sitcom March 3 on Fox. The Return of Jezebel James stars indie queen Parker Posey and Six Feet Under's Lauren Ambrose. Early buzz has quieted considerably. Fox also has a comedy, Unhitched (March 2), from feature-film jesters Peter and Bobby Farrelly.
Last, and least, some crumbs of rollicking reality: ABC's Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann (Jan. 7) - judges of the stars turn coaches to unknowns, cha cha cha. Fox's The Moment of Truth (Jan. 23) - contestants plug into the lie detector. NBC's The Baby Borrowers (Feb. 18) - teens get an accelerated taste of the demands of adult life.
They're lucky. They won't have time to watch themselves, the liars or the dancing disasters.