'American Idol' host Ryan Seacrest needs reality check

I don't watch "reality shows" to catch up on reality, but every once in a while, it rears its ugly head. Who knew that "American Idol" (7 p.m., Fox) could shed light on the feeling of economic insecurity gripping many young viewers? On last Wednesday's show, Ryan Seacrest implied that the six contestants who did not make the finals would go back to a life where the only lines they would audition would be "Will that be paper or plastic"?

Apparently, this is Seacrest's variation on the hackneyed phrase "Do you want fries with that?" Even the caustic Simon Cowell blasted "Idol's" bland host for his insensitive crack. Nevertheless, add "Idol" to the number of shows and pop-culture phenomena that "teach" us that, in America, you're either a superstar or a "loser" working for minimum wage. No wonder everybody wants to be a "Survivor."

  • Once again, Fox keeps "24" fans in suspense to promote another "reality" show, the second installment of "Forever Eden" (8:05 p.m., Fox).
  • Who said "Frasier" fans weren't on top of their show? Last week I chided the sitcom's creators for a story about Dr. Crane's first wife, Nanny G. (Laurie Metcalf), someone I had never seen before and whom I dismissed as new "back-story."

Well, I was deluged with e-mails from careful readers and a few eagle-eyed copy editors from papers that run this column reminding me that Nanny G. was introduced on an episode of "Cheers," and that she was played then by Emma Thompson.

Thanks for the friendly input. I stand corrected. But I still think it's absurd to drag this character out of Frasier's misty past with only a few episodes to go. On tonight's "Frasier" (8 p.m., NBC), a scary clown sends Dad into shock.

  • Scientists and historians explore one of the great legends of the Wild West on "Quest: Billy the Kid Unmasked" (8 p.m., Discovery).

Tonight's other highlights

  • Lorelai throws herself into funeral arrangements on "Gilmore Girls" (7 p.m., WB).
  • On "NOVA" (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings), "Life and Death in the War Zone" documents a military hospital during the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, when the country's health care system collapsed.
  • Sheryl Crow appears as herself and performs in Karen's Cafe on "One Tree Hill" (8 p.m., WB).
  • A working mother risks losing her family on "Judging Amy" (9 p.m., CBS).
  • The victim of an exorcism may have suffered earlier abuse on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC).
  • A mobster seeks justice after his daughter is killed in a hit-and-run accident on "NYPD Blue" (9 p.m., ABC).
  • A rape victim explores how the legal system compounded her suffering in the original documentary "Sentencing the Victim" on "Independent Lens" (9 p.m., PBS).

Late night

Julia Stiles and Jessica Simpson appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno welcomes Liv Tyler on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).

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