Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Real Must See TV I

Our readers probably assume that the only television I watch is telenovelas. This is not true. Being companionable with mi esposa, I also watch the Food Network and HGTV (has Reverend Wildmon never caught the shows on these networks?), although the Barefoot Contessa makes me cringe and I worry that we'll never again see Rick Spence. But mostly, my main alternative to Latino tearjerkers and Saturday night Gigantes is another underestimated art form needing more recognition.

That's right. Infomercials.

Like you, I suspect, my early perspective of these little gems was shaped by pan flute recordings (cheaper for the cassettes than the CDs) and knives that could cut through cans (which was cool but not selling). That guy in the bizarre sweaters still reappears occasionally in dream sequences better left undiscussed. But early one morning, surfing for something among the 432 channels worth watching, I ran across Tracy Scoggins. In a bikini. Coming out of a pool.

This looked informative.

(Brief aside: You may not remember her, but she was a second-tier player on the Teri Hatcher Superman show and later on one of those syndicated sci-fi things with fans I'd normally raise an eyebrow at, but I watch infomercials. Ms. Scoggins turns out to be a proud Texas Republican, three things which tell you everything you need to know about her, except she claims to have, like, a 289 IQ, which, if true, demonstrates the idiocy of genius. I won't get into how I know these things.)

Ms. Scoggins was hyping some forgotten exercise program that had helped to achieve or maintain her impressive physical condition, as revealed by the strips of cloth she was "wearing." While I failed to purchase the product, she succeeded in making me slow down during my search of those higher channels and not assume the only things worth viewing were series, movies, or sports. (Notice "news" had already pretty much disappeared as required watching by then.) There was a whole other world out there to behold. And I do mean behold.

And really, it's fascinating, indeed another planet, a lot like the interactive shopping channels, only without the conspicuously sad and desperately lonely people (and I'm just talking about the hosts). Although ginzu knives have pretty much vanished, some of the products do still amaze, like the ubiquitous ladder commercial with that "Home Improvement/Family Feud" guy that can apparently be bent into S's, or Z's anyway, and still support a medium-sized house party (the ladder, not the guy). Food processors and air purifiers are big right now, as well as vacuums and some disturbing shows featuring Mr. Orick himself (see the ones with his lit-up hands--not as bad though as his regular 60-second commercial with him in a cowboy hat and fringed chaps. Please get counseling, sir). The tooth care ones show way too many open mouths for someone who admires but wonders seriously about dentists.

For a while now mattresses have been popular. Lindsay Wagner does the adjustable one, with the two air chambers and each sleeper can control the firmness of their side? She seems sincere, and it's nice she's found work, but wouldn't being bionic keep you from worrying about bed comfort? (And I get that TMI feeling when she describes why she's not.) The AERO bed, the one that blows up in less than a minute, actually lives up to its billing in my own experience. Along that same line, I was a little skeptical of those foam bed things, especially the ones that just cover a regular mattress, but, after getting one (from a store, not tv), ours at least has also been as promised.

There are websites that warn you about infomercial products (like you got through high school and still need to be warned?), and most of them deal with the "get rich quick" schemes. Inherently, there is money to be made in real estate if you can buy now, fix up, sell higher, turn the profits around, and do it again (unless you're trying this in Newark, apparently). Not real sure how much of this will hold true as the housing bubble deflates around us, but for the last few years you didn't need tv gurus to tell us the italicized, you just needed some capital and a little luck. These guys on tv have clearly made money through selling real estate . . . on tv, even the two dwarfs who were the most compelling, for a number of reasons. And the website complainers seem shocked by the perfidy when it's discovered. These are people we allow to vote, which coincidentally explains the last 40 years of US history.

The biggest huckster and usual topic #1 of the critics, on practically all the time, selling virtually everything at one time or another, is a guy name Kevin Trudeau. Right now, he's hyping the sequel to a top-selling book (even in book stores) claiming that natural remedies are better than medical ones and that's why THE ESTABLISHMENT IS OUT TO STOP HIM!!! I guess being put in prison for fraud and paying the FTC fines on later occasions is proof. His Wikipedia article is one of the most hilarious things I've ever read, and not in a good way. The guy must have testicles like watermelons, which is probably why we've never seen him standing. Still, it all makes him very entertaining in small, all-natural doses. You just have to sit in awe, until your bowels start turning. And there are infomercials for that, too. I think Trudeau does one.

So, see? Where else can you get such a wide range of fascinating, informative, and occasionally true fare, especially when "Survivor" isn't on? And I've left out the best ones, the ones that drew me to these mini-masterpieces to start with, the ones focusing on improving the most important things in our lives.

Us. Like Tracy Scoggins was saying from the very start. Those infomercials are the best.

And a later post.