'American Idol' host Ryan Seacrest needs reality check

Tuesday, March 2, 2004

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."

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.

Tonight's other highlights

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).