Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Late Shift

If you turn on your television some night after 1 a.m., you may get some unexpected entertainment.

Ah, infomercials. You love them, you hate them, you can't avoid them ... particularly in the wee small hours of the morning.

These products often go in two different directions. One, a product that seems almost too good to be true is being offered at a fabulous sale price. Two, a money-making scheme that seems almost too good to be true is being offered at a fabulous sale price. I've already detected a trend here.

Infomercials first popped up on the scene several years ago, when local stations discovered they could make more selling the time instead of putting on The Late Movie. The more remote the time period, the odder the product.

Now, watching someone like Ron Popeil at work can be entertaining. Popeil used to sell products at fairs and the like, and he's got the pitch down. A 30-minute opportunity to sell on TV is tailor-made for him. The Dean Martin roast DVD's have some entertaining moments in-between the sales pitches. If nothing else, you can try to find someone who was on the show who is still alive. There's Billy Crystal, um, er, um ... well, I'll have to watch again and count them.

As for the others, well, it's a different story. An early favorite was Tom Wu, who was trying to pitch a real estate scheme with no money down. The shots of people who had made thousands of dollars were mixed in with shots of young girls in bikinis, usually bending over, around Wu.

Once in a while, a celebrity spokesman pops up on these infomercials. If you were wondering what ever happened to Minnie Driver, tune in at 2 a.m. A couple of these appearances were really disheartening. I think Meredith Baxter popped up on a cosmetics ad; Baxter was always a favorite, so it was tough to see her do that ad. Even tougher, though, was seeing Jim Kelly in an ad for a vaguely-defined company called 5LINX. Jimbo, did you really need the money so badly that you needed to get into multi-level marketing of communication equipment?

There are a couple of ads making the circuit right now that are appropriately silly. I see some medical-looking guy talking about how a clean colon might be a key to better health. I've never had the guts to hang around long for that one. Sounded icky.

Then there's an ad for the world's greatest vitamin. When the hosts aren't explaining how much easy money can be made, and testimonials aren't being given from people who earned tons of money from Web sites, I seem to recall (remember, it's on late) two women in low-cut dresses talking about the selling program. If they showed much more, I'd think I was watching The Movie Channel. Maybe it's a tribute to Tom Wu.

I think Homer Simpson is about the only person who calls the toll-free number, so I don't need to conclude with a warning about that. I'll merely say if you want an laugh, do a Google search for investigations into some of these operations. The people behind the "world's greatest vitamin" sure have had some less-than-great adventures over the years.

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