America is a land of consumers. High end, low end, we define ourselves by the products we purchase. The most colorful of these products, however, are not sold in stores. We can order them over the phone, with our credit card in hand, usually at around 1 a.m. when insobriety or exhaustion has grabbed hold of us. These treasures come in all shapes and sizes for a wide range of purposes and their total price – at least first payment – usually costs a very reasonably sounding $19.95. Here is a ranking of the ten greatest As Seen On TV products ever, and shipping and handling is free.
No. 10 – Bedazzler
It’s a common problem. You look through your closets, at your pants, shirts, hats, scarves, or capes if you got ’em, and there’s just no dang sparkle. For centuries, there was little an average jane or joe could do about this. But in the ’70s all that changed when the Bedazzler was introduced to a garment glitter-starved public. Wearable rhinestones and studs were now not just ornaments for the wealthy or royalty or religious leaders, the commonest among us could transform our wardrobe for practically pocket change with a two-bit device in the shape of a miniature sewing machine. And whether we wanted to keep it at the level of sensible retro chic or full blown Liberace, the Bedazzler made the world our oyster and its bulk, valueless, gemlike bling its pearls.
No. 9 – Bowflex
Who needed late night Cinemax when we could just wait for the Bowflex commercials to come on instead? The guys were ripped flaunting more abs than there are Duggars. The chicks had tremendous boobs stretching their sports bras to the brink. The music was porntastic and all the tan bodies packed into the thirty second spots had us reaching for the lotion. But the product was cool, too. Looking perfect alongside a brick-walled loft or a glass and stainless steel laboratory that might design a Terminator, this a was no ordinary gym equipment. No weights here, just cables and straps and resistance and the ability to fold it up like George Jetson’s car. Finally, the Bowflex pitch threw out terms like “performance rods” and “sexy core.” Uh-oh, time for that lotion again.
No. 8 – OxiClean
People don’t generally get excited by white powder unless it’s the kind our darker high school assemblies warned us about. But when its commercials showed us all the stains that were no match for it when mixed with water, OxiClean sent us into immaculate elation. Although it’s hard to separate the highs we felt for the product from that we felt for its pitchman, Billy Mays, perhaps TVs first lumbersexual since Yukon aided Rudolph in his Misfit Toy adventure. Mays’ voice was somehow both booming and gentle and as he demonstrated just how powerful and gentle OxyClean was on carpets, clothes, and stuffed animals we realized he and it were a dynamic duo. Oxygen, we were informed, was the powder’s secret weapon and Mays breathed amazing life into its popularity with his forceful yet friendly delivery.
No. 7 – Ginsu Knives
The word Ginsu doesn’t mean anything, can’t be found in any Japanese dictionary or text, but was simply made up by a couple white guys in Ohio trying to sell knives. A product every American household already had plenty of, and didn’t think they needed any more. But in its groundbreaking infomercial, a Ginsu knife was slickly portrayed as a miracle product, something sharper and more precise than a Mayo Clinic surgeon’s scalpel, a utensil of pure power. Its Asian chef chopping through wood, aluminum cans, boxes of frozen vegetables with ease, while still retaining a razored edge to cut a tomato with maternal delicacy. And the orders from homes everywhere began pouring in. Not only did Ginsu bring the infomercial mainstream, but phrases like “Now how much would you pay?” or “Wait, there’s more!” as well. For Ginsu, the latter included more knives, a carving fork, slicers, and a gadget that cut potatoes into a pretty dope, accordion-like coil. Ginsu knives led the way for all the As Seen On TV products to follow, transforming our drunken midnight rerun watching forever.
No. 6 – Thighmaster
Many of us wanted to get between Suzanne Somers’ legs when she first began appearing on television in the ’70s. In the ’90s we were given our best shot with the Thighmaster, a ridiculous piece of exercise equipment advertised by the sex symbol herself. A cross between a giant paper clip and a rejected torture device from the “Saw” franchise and finished in Superman colors, you had to be stronger than a locomotive to squeeze this thing repetitively with your knees, arms, or whatever anatomical crevice you wedged it between. But Somers needed a successful Second Act after her diva antics got her bounced from her hit sitcom, and even though this thing quickly ended up in the dusty corner of our attics, we were proud to help the blonde bombshell achieve it.
No. 5 – ShamWow
In Yiddish, it’s called a schmatta. Around these parts, a rag. But the world of infomercials has branded it more appealingly as a ShamWow. And its energetic spokesman Vince, oozing a New Yorker’s confidence, became as absorbing as the product itself when he began selling them in 2007. Basically, it’s a very thirsty towel. But Vince’s masterful, straightforward pitch effectively convinced us that we could not go on living without it. In essence we’d just been wasting our time, up to this point, using a lowly towel as a cleaning device, paper or otherwise. And even though “Sham” was clearly half of the product’s name, we believed Vince hook, line, and sinker.
No. 4 – The Clapper
Not intended for a concert hall or other performing arts venue where ovations occur with frequency, this cherished product has always been one we’d enjoy within the privacy of our own home. There has always been something elegant about terse, abrupt clapping – whether it might come from a stern governess or tango-loving parent – and after The Clapper’s mid-’80s birth, the sweet, sharp sound could now be used to turn off our lighting and other household devices. Heck, this is such a beloved product some might even hook it up to their clocks or aquarium filters in a blunt refusal to let any electrical outlet go unClapped. But the smiley, sleepy Grandma in the infamous ad shows us The Clapper at its very best, shutting off her lamp and static-stricken television with a power she holds within the palms of her own hands.
No. 3 – Snuggie
Half cloak and half mangled blanket, the Snuggie is the go-to comfort item for those with both low self-respect and body temperature. But a true phenomenon, leading many commercial audience viewers to consider purchasing one for themselves, clearly when their better judgment has somehow been compromised. The rub with the Snuggie, though, is that there is no material in the back, not just to warm you, but to keep it from falling off your body when you stand. But why should it, since this product celebrates America’s true greatest pastimes – immobility and sloth.
No. 2 – George Foreman Grill
Whether outdoor grilling is not an option or you just want to eat like a lovable boxer, the George Foreman Grill is there for you and has been since he began selling them in 1996. Bringing the BBQ right to your countertop, patios were no longer needed to grill up your meats and vegetables and even sandwiches like a champ. And the fat-reducing component was a knockout for an increasingly health-conscious population. Although maybe the liquefied fat bleeding right out of the appliance’s front into a shallow reservoir to form a murky puddle right before your eyes might be so unappetizing that it can bring about weight loss as well. Whatever the motivation, George Foreman didn’t need to don boxing gloves to persuade consumers to buy in droves. His apron and fatherly smile were all we needed.
No. 1 – Chia Pet
What did we all give each other for Christmas before 1982? Not sure, but thank Jesus the Chia Pet came along when it did, quickly becoming our favorite unappreciable gift. Though we love the product’s stuttering catchphrase, watching the seed application within the ubiquitous holiday-timed commercials is still, to this day, mildly repulsive. And the herb bloom that follows, only a little less. But who hasn’t fantasized where in one’s home one might place a Chia Pet, and then, shortly afterwards, how much to charge for it at the garage sale.