If you're convinced your life isn't as exciting as everyone else's, we've got the answer: Watch more television.

A new reality TV network called Reality TV (how original) will launch in January 2004 to quench Americans' seemingly insatiable thirst to sit at home and watch other people do, well, just about anything.

The channel will air reruns of popular reality TV shows, interviews with the "stars," behind-the-scenes footage, and relevant news and gossip. And in the spirit of Shakespeare's play within a play, the network will also feature a "making of" series about -- what else -- itself.

(We expect lightning to strike Fool HQ any minute now for that comparison to the great playwright.)

In today's Motley Fool Take:

$1.4 Billion Means Nothing to You

The investor on Main Street asks what Wall Street's settlement will mean for his portfolio. Jeff Fischer (TMF Jeff) and Tom Jacobs (TMF Tom9) answered with a resounding, "Not a lot," on Oliver North's radio show yesterday. What's good for individual investors hasn't changed.

This is not to minimize the fact that 10 large investment banks with brokerage operations will pay $1.4 billion in penalties. That's not peanuts, though Citigroup(NYSE: C) earned its $400 million share every nine days last quarter. And the Big Ten will have to endure such contortions as erecting a Chinese Wall between bankers and analysts. Especially funny will be firms posting results of research analysts' recommendations and one-year price targets.

But these and other provisions will not change two truths of Wall Street: 1) Analyst research has never paid for itself, creating a conflict of interest at firms with investment-banking operations; and 2) Individual investors before and now shouldn't buy or sell stocks based on conflicted analyst research.

First, research has never been a profit center by itself at large firms with investment-banking arms. It exists to support the brokerage and banking operations, so it's inherently conflicted. Jeff asked rhetorically, what did people think when they read about Henry Blodgett and Mary Meeker's bonuses? Did they truly believe their firms paid them for writing good research?

Blodgett and others got the gold for writing research that served as sales material for investment bankers, and also for attending sales pitches to prospective clients -- the companies whose IPOs or other business the firm coveted. Analysts are salespeople, pure and simple, and they are selling to institutions and companies, not individuals like you and me.

The second truth is that individual investors have only two choices for building long-term wealth in the stock market. If you have the time and the interest to learn about businesses, especially the financials, you can learn to be an effective investor and achieve your goal.

If you need help, you can find many independent resources, but you must supplement them with your own learning. Alliance Capital's(NYSE: AC) Sanford Bernstein unit is just one independent research house, and so is The Motley Fool, through our subscription stock advice, Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter, and The Motley Fool Select newsletter.

Luckily, there is another option for you if don't have the time or interest. You have tools unavailable to prior generations of investors -- broad-market, low-expense stock index funds. These funds -- both mutual and exchange-traded -- offer you the opportunity to obtain the long-term benefits of owning stocks without the need to research individual companies.

The settlement is big news. But the old rule -- to ignore Wall Street -- remains the same.

Quote of Note

"My riches consist not in the extent of my possessions, but in the fewness of my wants." -- J. Brotherton, author

ImClone , Tyco Share Morals

You may recall Sam Waksal, former chief executive officer of ImClone Systems(Nasdaq: IMCLE), who resigned his position in disgrace about a year ago in the face of insider trading and fraud charges.

What you may not recall is that his brother, Dr. Harlan Waksal, then CFO, took over as chief executive in his stead. Some ImClone insiders criticized this move. Apparently, they laid blame for the initial failures of Erbitux, a drug upon which ImClone's future largely depends, squarely on the shoulders of Harlan.

But, in an apparent "two for the price of one" deal, Harlan Waksal went the way of brother Sam, resigning his post today. The action came amid a probe by U.S. federal regulators into why the company failed to pay taxes on stock options that were exercised by Sam Waksal and other executives. ImClone's chairman, Robert Goldhammer, also resigned and CFO Daniel Lynch was named interim chief.

ImClone commented in a statement, "The Company's current difficulties led the independent members of the board of directors to conclude that a change in leadership was appropriate." Ya think? Let's take that a step further, shall we? Anyone at the company who thought it was a good idea for the brother of convicted fraudster Sam Waksal to take the reins, please stand up -- thank you. Now, be so kind as to join Harlan and Mr. Goldhammer in resignation.

Actually, the company went on to say that Harlan Waksal would remain as chief scientific officer, which comes as a relief to all those who thought they wouldn't have someone to blame for ImClone's next fiasco.

But that's not the only "two for one" deal to be had today. Apparently, there's no end to the dirty laundry at Tyco International(NYSE: TYC), either. The troubled conglomerate acknowledged that, just months after assuring investors an internal probe of its books failed to unearth any "significant fraud," it has uncovered an additional $1.2 billion in accounting fiction.

You'd think a company would want to be sure about the details of that sort of thing before blabbing some nonsense to regulators and shareholders, but, alas, we're not dealing with the most diligent of firms here. This is, after all, a company that has restated results or taken an accounting-related charge four times since October of last year.

There are plenty of folks out there who snatched up shares of ImClone and Tyco based on valuation over the past few months. "The companies are just plain cheap," they said. Maybe so, as almost any company is worth consideration at a certain price, but if you don't know the full extent of the downside other than by trusting the statements of proven incompetents, you can't possibly quantify the risk/reward of such an investment. A cheap scandal-tainted company is still a scandal-tainted company, and until something has truly been done to fix what allowed the scandal in the first place, investors should steer clear of the wreckage.

Only you can decide whether you're comfortable getting in bed with firms that have demonstrated such a complete lack of judgment and character on so many levels. But when there are so many great companies in our investing universe, it doesn't pay to settle for ones that aren't. If you're a diligent and patient investor, you can often acquire quality companies at just as favorable a price, and you can do so without having the CEO take a polygraph.

Refinance and Save

Does saving potentially hundreds of dollars per month on your mortgage sound good to you? Mortgage rates remain historically low, so now might be the time to refinance and save yourself some dough. Our Home Center can help.

Papa John's Dough Flattens

"When the swoon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that's abhorrent."

Distressed are the baked cheese makers after pizza delivery specialist Papa John's(Nasdaq: PZZA) warned that it would miss its revenue and profit targets for 2003. Talking investors down to income expectations of just $2.20 to $2.26 a share, off earlier guidance of $2.48 a share, conjures cruel images of pizza slicers assaulting the bottom line. But price wars compounded by a drop in sales make for a wicked margin-munching combination. Don't believe the pizza chains? Ask the burger meisters.

This was supposed to be a golden time for the pie makers. In a cash-strapped economy, who could refuse the lure of feeding a family with a dozen bucks or so? But Papa John's expects its same-store sales to drop by at least 2% this year. This cheese isn't standing alone, either. Last week, Pizza Hut parent Yum Brands(NYSE: YUM) posted comp gains at its Taco Bell and KFC stores while Pizza Hut suffered a 4% dip at the store level.

So why are Americans panning the pizza? We're not. Just as we've seen in everything from burger chains to video game console specialists to airlines to computer makers, once an industry breaks into a price war it will need to move more units just to keep pace with last year's sales levels. As pizza delivery companies find themselves with little choice but to match their rivals' discount and twofer specials, it's a cutthroat scene, and, remember, these guys have the slicers.

What's worse is that Papa John's owns only 590 of its roughly 2,800 locations. Franchising provides a steady stream of income to the concept creator, but what about the franchisees? With price wars eroding margins that are further shaved by a 4% slice of net sales, won't it be harder for the chain to keep its franchisees happy today and growing tomorrow? Of course, it will. Thin crust isn't just an option at Papa John's. Right now, it might be a way of life.

Discussion Board of the Day: Living Below Your Means

While it's hard to profit from the fast-food price wars as an investor, are you taking advantage of the discounting as a consumer? Have any thrifty dining ideas? Know of other ways to save money? All this and more -- in the Living Below Your Means discussion board. Only on Fool.com.

Quick Takes

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan made a regular appearance before Congress today, saying although rough spots may still lie ahead, the U.S. economy is "positioned to expand at a noticeably better pace than it has during the past year." He also reiterated his support for dividend tax cuts, an issue that's seeing some opposition as President Bush's stimulus plan wends through Congress.

Two days after MasterCard settled with Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT) and several thousand other retailers over debit card policies, it appears Visa may do the same. Opening statements for the multimillion-dollar trial were scheduled for today, but have been postponed until Friday in the midst of "serious settlement talks."

Shares of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia(NYSE: MSO) dropped 13% today after it reported another quarterly loss and declining revenues. Martha herself said in a statement that the poor showing was partly due to "continuing governmental investigations of my sale of non-company stock." The lifestyle diva is being probed for her sale of ImClone(Nasdaq: IMCLE) stock before the company released bad news about approval for one of its drugs.

In local news, county librarian Sally Bowers looked up "diva" in the dictionary and chuckled at the definition: "prima donna."

And Finally...

Today on Fool.com:

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Mathew Emmert, Jeff Fischer, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim