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Yesterday's TV, Today's Economy: Married...With Children


Gary's Shoes, where Al Bundy worked for minimum wage, would likely have folded under pressure from online retailers, like Zappos.

If the patriarch of FOX TV's (NWS) Married... With Children could be counted on for anything, it was staying true to the Bundy philosophy: "If you're gonna lose, lose big."

The onetime high school star fullback, whose broken leg ruined a promising college football career, Al Bundy opted to take the hand he was dealt and fold. Consigned to a blue collar career as a salesman at Gary's Shoes & Accessories for Today's Woman, you'd think Al had nowhere to go but up, but he managed instead to plateau at failure just fine.

Between 1987 and 1997, the period of time during which American TV audiences were acquainted with the dysfunctional Bundys, Al never seemed to squeak past an hourly minimum wage, which, according to national standards, would have bottomed out at $3.35 and peaked at $5.15 by the end of the show's ten-year run. At 40 hours per week, Al's annual base salary, before commissions and bonuses, would have barely hit five figures. In the episode "'Tis Time to Smell the Roses," Al boasts to his family, "I've been offered early retirement. They've offered to give me a year's pay... a check for $12,000!"

Al's "aim low" or perhaps "don't bother aiming" credo suited the sad sack protagonist quite well with his life's ambition, culminating in owning a Ferguson commode, "the Stradivari of toilets." That being said, the humble, yet typical, Bundy abode on Jeopardy Lane in the Chicago suburbs would have been wildly out of reach without public assistance. Moreover, he'd never have the disposable income to frequent the Jiggly Room or buy his favorite girlie magazine, "Big Uns", let alone fill up the tank on his clunker Dodge Dart.

That Al never missed a mortgage payment and avoided bankruptcy was even more improbable considering he headed a four-person household with two teenage kids and a wife who, not only didn't contribute to the family income but, had a nasty spending habit.

So would Al's lot in life be just as miserable in 2011?

Well, for starters, he'd probably be laid off from Gary's Shoes as mom and pop shoe stores have been tread on by big-box discounters, department stores, franchises and online retailers like (AMZN). Many family-owned stores like Manhattan mainstays Lord John's Bootery, Giordano's and Plaza Too were forced out of business by rising footwear production costs -- which are predicted to reach 15%.

But getting the boot from Gary's could have been a blessing in disguise as many other opportunities abound in an otherwise robust women's fashion footwear market. According to The NPD Group, Inc., a leading market research company, women's shoe sales in 2010 saw an 8% increase from the previous year.

"The footwear market was the last to feel the pain of the recession and is the first to feel the gain of the recovery and women are leading the charge," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst, The NPD Group, Inc., "Women were the first to feel 'frugal fatigue' and head back to spending on fashion product while spending on men's and children's products has followed."

Even in late 1980's standards, Al was being severely underpaid at $12,000 a year. Today, if he got a job with Brown Shoe Company, Inc. (BWS), for example, which enjoyed record sales of $716.1 million in 2010, he'd earn an average annual salary of $32,606.

Sure, that figure falls far short of the median household income for Illinois, which, according to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data was $53,966.

But, as Al himself is the first to admit, "A Bundy never wins, but a Bundy never quits."
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