November 16, 2000

Celebrity Sell Out

Print More

There is something indescribably depressing about has-been celebrities doing infomercials. Even without the stars, the whole infomercial experience is pretty darn pathetic. I mean, there you are, up at four in the morning, pissed because you’re not sleeping, and the only thing on is an hour-long commercial advertising Fat Trapper and Exercise-in-a-Bottle, and the hour show isn’t really an hour, but rather one 15 minute segment that’s played over and over. Even the directors expect you to eventually flip the channel, but to what would you turn? The best you could hope for is watching Skinemax through the lines.

So you’re flipping through awful infomercials and then it happens: the dagger through the heart. You see one of the stars of your youth, like Vanna White or Jennie Garth, someone you idolized before you realized the importance of talent, in a talk-show-like forum surrounded by products. For a hopeful second, you think it’s a rerun of Donahue from 1988. But you soon understand it all too well: this is an infomercial.

Infomercials featuring celebrities who have fallen out of the limelight have a morbid aura, like that of anything that has lost its glory; closed down amusement parks and Studio 54 come to mind. But somehow, celebrity infomercials are the most traumatizing, and several are particularly disturbing.

Take, for example, the Judith Light skin care infomercial. Judith Light was none other than Angela from TV’s Who’s The Boss?, a quality show from our youth. I remember watching a Who’s The Boss? behind the scenes show that claimed Judith Light’s wardrobe was, at the time, the priciest wardrobe of all sitcom stars. And look at her now. The only air time she can get is between the hours of 2 and 6 a.m. And during that time, all she does is lament acne as America’s most tragic social ill and commiserate with fellow has-been Mackenzie Philips (has she done anything since American Graffiti?) over the latter’s skin problems and their subsequent disappearance, thanks to the infomercial’s product, Proactiv Solution.

Or consider Suzanne Somers, who went from Three’s Company to promoting the Thighmaster. She never recovered — now she’s moved on to the Torso Track, and will forever be associated with mail-order exercise equipment.

There’s also Florence Henderson, former matriarch of what is perhaps the most popular sitcom of all time, The Brady Bunch, who has more recently done infomercials for Chromatrim Diet Gum and Expressware cooking utensils. Don’t forget Christie Brinkley and Chuck Norris, who vouch for the effectiveness of Total Gym 2000. Or Teri Garr, who promotes the Selleca Skin system in between shooting her light radio commercials. Or Dionne Warwick, spokeswoman for the most embarrassing of all infomercial genres, psychic networks.

The road to fame is rocky. A star often begins with commercials or cameos in rock videos, ascends to the status of actor in Lifetime made-for-TV movies or Court TV dramas, and finally enters the world of sitcoms and movies. The descent is often the reverse. But infomercials are off the charts; they are the lowest of the low. The people in them are literally kicking and screaming to preserve their last ounce of fame. So hitting Lifetime on your way back down is like a neon sign saying it’s time to bow out of the public eye.

Archived article by Danielle Stein