Sunday, April 29, 2007

TV: Infomercials

I enjoy watching infomercials sometimes, mostly for the entertainment value. "Paid Programming" has a long and rich history that's been paved by the juggernauts of the kitchen appliance industry (your Ron Popeils and your George Foremans). Yet for every huge success story like the "ShowTime Rotisserie" or "George Foreman Grill," there's a shabby "GT Xpress 101" hidden in the shadows (to be fair, I've never actually used a "GT Xpress 101").

One of the weirdest things about infomercials is that they actually have a number of hosts/actors that keep appearing - almost like a stock company in a local theatre. Some of them have British or Australian accents that sound awfully forced. Others are washed-up B-list celebrities who need a quick buck and find that they have a talent for selling.

The techniques used to present a product are fairly uniform. Often there are demonstrations of extreme things that can be done with the device (grinding concrete, cutting a hammer, picking up marbles off a floor). This is paired up with an incredulous host and his "expert" co-host, who banter about how amazing something is before the pitch. While this is certainly effective, I applaud infomercials that go the extra mile to do something that hasn't been seen before. Particularly impressive is when they go outside the studio and do things in the real world - which must be completely anithetical to the budget production budget these shows must have.

I don't mind infomercials extolling the virtues of some new vacuum or knife set, but I really have a problem with those "no-money-down" guys who will extend you a life of luxury - as long as you buy their $300 set of CDs and books. It feels...unseemly - almost like they're making a living off the poor. And indeed, there have been allegations of misconduct in their sales, including persistent unauthorized credit card charges. I don't tend to disagree with "buyer beware," but it definitely


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