When clueless, middle-class Amber asked uppercrust Bachelor Andrew Firestone to name his favorite ''chain'' restaurant, it was suddenly clear: In the post-''Joe Millionaire'' world, socioeconomic disparities are fair game for on-air mocking. And three upcoming reality shows will up the ante.
Fox's ''The Simple Life'' strands socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie on an Arkansas farm; CBS' rubes-out-of-water ''The Real Beverly Hillbillies'' has already sparked protests from rural groups; and on ABC's ''Rich Guy, Poor Guy,'' 25 women go after men whose financial status is a mystery. (Even scripted shows have tried to get in on the act, but The WB has just trashed ''Trash'' -- a trailer-park ''Romeo and Juliet'' pilot.) ''There probably are people out there who are jealous of someone like Paris, and it's fun to watch when the tables are turned,'' says Jonathan Murray, who, as exec producer of ''Simple Life,'' certainly hopes that's the case.
''It shows how hard up the industry is for plotlines,'' sniffs manners expert Letitia Baldrige. ''People love to watch others be humiliated.'' What's next, ''Homeless Blind Date''?