Shop ’til you ‘ drop
Barry Diller, the man who made it possible for Americans to buy
tacky jewellery from the comfort of their own homes 24 hours a day, will be at the Edinburgh International Television Festival to share the secret of his success with the great and the not so great of British broadcasting. Jonathan Bernstein contemplates the sad case that is The Shopping Channel.
That word genius covers a multitude of sins. But in terms of ruedia moguls. if anyone qualities. Barry Diller does. In his twenties. working for the ABC network. he came up with the idea of madc-for—TV movies and expanded that inspiration into the miniseries. As a movie executive at Paramount. he produced Raiders o/ the Lost Ark. He started the much-derided Fox TV Network and set in motion such pop-culture watersheds as The .S'impsons. Beverly Hills 902/0 and with (.‘ops. his you-arc-on— the-beat police show. he introduced energy and prurient interest into the arena of reality TV. Then he took over QVC. the home shopping empire. the means by which tubby stay-at-homes could stock tip on imitation jewellery without having to uproot themselves from the comfort of their own couches. Diller‘s involvement cast a patina of info/mini legitimacy over the enterprise. it meant the animated catalogue was moving upscale. or at least out of the trailer park. This August. a proposed merger between QVC and the CBS network provisionally meant Dillcr would oversee both the shopping and
entertainment arenas. That deal went abruptly belly- up and once the post-mortems about corporate
strategies were completed. one thing becarrre clear:
l)illcr' was bored to death with home shopping. ‘You see that border there? That‘s a feather border and they do it with a diamond-tipped cutting tool. it fits all different kinds of necklines: circular necklines. higher necklines. V-shape necklines. I can't say enough about it . . . ' She really can't. A little after I lprn on a Wednesday night. Over on QVC. they‘re throwing their Klondike Gold Rush special. The plucky blonde in the puff-sleeved evening dress is pushing that l8in herringbone bracelet with a fervour she's probably only previously adopted persuading a bad-seed boyfriend to give up his life of crime. She‘s got to move the
goods so she can get on to the 7m velvet rope
bracelets and the polished satin ribbed dangle earrings. Success. Gail's on the line. Gail‘s got to
. have it: ‘lt looks like a great size. not too much but just really nice . . . '. Gail coos over the quality of her purchase. The blonde coos over (jail for being such
an astute judge ofcheap jewellery. Cut to a promo for an upcoming special dedicated to an industrial back support belt.
Zap to ()2 for physical evidence of that Diller
genius. QVC for young money. Q2 is the live-action (lap. Chuck Fields is your funky host. While the
camera roams rcstlessly in that MTV—patented zero attention span fashion. Chuck works up a head of
' steam: ‘I love this faux cashmere. i love it 'cos it really looks like cashmere . . '_ (m/l ~ kiwi . . . ‘. Chuck‘s cool (‘ . . . raw silk plaid
. available in black and.
' shirt. . . kinda grungy. . . ') but the station doesn't quite have the empathy with its audience that its parent does. Neither of them have the bond that the original Home Shopping club does. Tune in to Charlene Lake. the Edith Piaf of crap-shifting. First impressions: a slight. trernbly. bird-like blonde. one might even use the word scrawny. Then she starts to sell; ‘l.ook at these ravishing diamonds. The colour is ex-tra-or-di-nary. Take a look at the excellence of the champagne diamond ring . . . ‘. At her pitching peak. Charlene vibrates with a passion you‘d be hard pressed to ﬁnd on any pay-per-view pom channel (believe rue. l‘ve looked) and she brings out the same lubriciousness in her potential customers. ‘lt's so pretty.‘ gasps Jan from lllinois. about a lump of shiny tin. ‘l‘ve been watching for a couple ofyears for something not too fancy.’
Emotions run similarly high when an actual deifrable celebrity deigns to make an Earthly visitation. Media analysts predicted huge social upheaval when Penny Marshall and Tom Hanks appeared on QVC to push A League of'l'lreir ()wn merchandise. So far. though. a rrronstrous regiment of A-list talent has not followed suit. Joan Rivers is the biggest name to promote her own line ofjewellery (designed by an artist called David Danglel). beneath her are such sale stars as Connie Stevens and Morgan Fairchild. Diller's likely defection from the shop ' floor hasn’t put a huge dent in the idea of home shopping as a logical addition to the affluent lifestyle. John Oates (of Hall and Oates fame) is attempting to launch a music shopping outlet. MTV just premiered The Goods. a rock product dispensary which brandishes a big bar code as its logo and has Katie Puckrick (ex of The Word) doping her personality callisthcnics in an effort to remove any stigma oftackiness that might be associated with ordering T—shirts over the air.
For all the talk of home shopping‘s position in the new technology revolution. 1 can‘t get past the image of Charlene Lake rolling the syllables of the words ‘Kanchanabun' Sapphire' around her tongue. and the attendant exhalations of ecstasy from the punter on the phone. The product may be a piece of crap. but to the majority of home shopping addicts. the personal connection means everything.
Jonathan Bernstein is a contributing editorfor SPIN Magazine in New York. Barry Diller's World View lecture is at the EITF. 27 Aug. delegates only.
:— Hi ideals
In Hearts oi Darkness, the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, there’s a point when Francis Coppola discusses the great democratising influence of video technology. He concludes that the Mozart of the moving image will probably be a fat girl from Idaho with a camcorder.
It’s a nice idea - people who for years have had their images captured
m .‘ -‘u‘~
results have been Increasingly Intimate, revelatory programmes.
The Edinburgh lntematlonal Television Festival's III-8 Workshop will address the changes brought about by the smallest oi the new video formats. Producer Susanna White stresses that the masterclass Isn’t a ‘technical buniight tor bottlns’ but is concerned with the changes In working practices that these smaller cameras will cause. Will being able to put a camera In a handbag sharpen Cutting Edge, or will economies dictate that all programmes and up
by a media elite tinally creating and controlling the representations at themselves tor themselves. Unfortunately it hasn’t quite worked out like that: despite the camcordering oi Creyiriar’s Bobby 1000 times an hour, no one has quite
got round to making the seminal video l of his lite and statues. But the technology allowing very l
small cameras to produce high quality
pictures has caused something M a
I rutile in the protessional documentary ‘
world. Programme makers now have the opportunity to operate their own cameras and sound equipment - gone are the days when a live-person crew crowded into a living room for a ﬂy on the wall on the wall documentary. The
produced on the Interior but vastly cheaper video III-8? And would Mozart have used a Casio keyboard, had they been available? Thought provoking stun. (Stephen Chester)
III-8 Workshop, EITF, 27 Aug, delegates only. For Intonnatlon tel 031 220 2045.
The List 26 August—8 September [994 59