A bit of TV shopping and you've nearly bought the farm

MIKE LITTWIN

October 04, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

I don't have to tell you that we live in the information age. You already knew that. That's why it's called the information age.

The spillover effect is, of course, a loss of privacy. We live in a time when it's pretty much impossible to keep anything secret. Like we now know J. Edgar Hoover used to wear dresses and Garth Brooks never removes his hat because he keeps a pet squirrel under it.

Everyone seems to know everything about everyone else. And yet, some secrets endure.

For example, you don't know anyone who eats Spam, do you? Somebody eats it. If you believe the literature -- yes, there's literature even on Spam in the information age -- millions eat it. No one admits it. No one will even say he knows what it is.

We all have secrets (I myself am a closet Norman Greenbaum fan).

But there's one secret nobody wants to reveal, and it threatens the very fabric of our society. As you must have guessed, I'm talking about the private viewing of the home-TV-shopping networks.

And not just watching them. Using them, too. Buying non-stick frying pans on the QVC network when you haven't fried anything in years. Buying autographed Mickey Mantle baseball cards for your children -- when you don't have any children and don't even like children.

Nobody wants to admit it because buying products from TV says one of several things:

* You've given up completely on life. Like you just don't have the energy anymore to go out and buy your own shoes. The sad part is that walking through the mall was the only exercise you got.

* You're an addict. You'll buy anything through any available medium. Soon, there may be legislation that allows such unfortunates (are you listening, Mom?) to block the QVC network.

* You haven't been the same person since they shut down the Sears catalog.

Normally, I don't care what people do in the privacy of their own homes. But now the QVC network, with your dollars, is trying to buy Paramount Communications Inc.

For $9.9 billion.

How many non-stick frying pans do you have to sell to get to $9.9 billion? Try the math. That's $9.9 billion divided by the QVC discount price of only $17.61.

If the sale goes through, you know what this means, don't you? You thought colorizing was bad. Wait till there's a merger of home shopping and movies.

Paramount made "The Godfather." Try to picture the scene when Marlin Brando, near death, is in his beloved garden and then the action stops. Suddenly, he's saying, "See these tomatoes? I grew 'em myself, and now you can buy my tomato sauce -- Don Corleone's Best. It tastes good, and if you don't buy it, you might be buying a certain horse head."

How about "The Ten Commandments"? Moses comes down the mountain carrying not two tablets but a gross of Advil capsules.

Some will say I'm exaggerating the problem. They'll say, after watching a QVC sales hostess hawking the Dracula-in-the-coffin accent piece, that home shopping is an obvious and logical step up from Ronco's Popeil pocket fisherman. They're wrong.

Watching the Veg-O-Matic ad -- it slices, it dices, it turns into a pocket calculator -- is to tune in to an important piece of Americana. It's the low-cost, cultural equivalent of a pilgrimage to Graceland. And nobody has ever bought anything from Ronco except as a gag.

Watching a home shopping network is different. You're actually shopping. You're buying jewelry from Joan Rivers. Or a pair of women's shoes from a guy who smiles for two hours straight. (At least every time I channel-surfed by, he was still there smiling, like Steven L. Miles, who's in a similar business.)

Soon, the shoes were gone, and it was silk separates from Diane von Furstenburg, who can do a million bucks on one show. It never ends. You don't shop till you drop. You shop even after you drop.

I don't get it. But somebody does. The numbers are incredible.

In 1986, the QVC network grossed $112 million. Last year, it was up to $1.07 billion. Saks is now selling clothes on the network. Macy's is planning to start one of its own. So is Nordstrom's, except they're working on two-way TV wherein you can be led by your salesperson electronically throughout the store. It's Nintendo, except at each window there's a new designer label.

OC It reminds me of another Paramount movie -- "Fatal Attraction."

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