HSN (the Home Shopping Network, the never-ending commercial getting spun off in the breakup of Barry Diller’s IAC) should under no circumstances be confused with its rival QVC (“Quality, Value, Convenience,” the industry leader). The latter is the invention of Joseph Segel, a Hall of Fame salesman who also pioneered the pop numismatics of the Franklin Mint, and its current on-air manner is aggressively jolly. The cameramen dodge around, the dreary lighting makes it look like the gaffer’s slacking off, and the hosts still say, “But that’s not all!” The fans who call into QVC represent a stereotypical horde of compulsive shoppers and cat ladies—or so you had to assume the other night when a viewer phoning in a testimonial for battery-operated scented candles chatted giddily about her 10 candles and four cats.
HSN, going in for a softer sell, gets to feel like a perpetual Tupperware party. There, the broadcasting day begins with Sunshine, a regular morning presentation that perhaps meets the minimum requirements of an actual current-affairs program. Alone among its peers, it nods at the existence of an outside world by providing a glimpse of the time and a whiff of meteorology—a weather-report graphic highlighting cities with fair skies. The rest of the day, HSN feels like late afternoon, and the only clock tells you that, with one minute and four seconds remaining to buy a complete home facial kit, 9,199 have already been sold.
It’s possible to believe that, for every two agoraphobes in HSN’s home audience, there are three viewers who’ve tuned in just for the sake of light entertainment. The hosts have mastered the trick of staying endearing while skirting smarminess, and they’re confident enough to let the real stars of the show—the autographed baseballs and velvet tunics and remote-control helicopters and “croco-embossed” leather watches—shine brightly.
A big “guest” this past week was Wyland, a painter who, operating under his last name, is one of American culture’s leading schlock artists—the kind of man Jeff Koons dreams of being. Specializing in the depiction of annoyingly cute marine mammals, Wyland sells lithographs, Lucite sculptures, pendants shaped like whale tails, official U.S. Olympic Team tie-ins, surfboards, “Underwater World”-edition Monopoly sets, a CD of “eco-conscious” jazz music—that kind of thing. Though he cites both Matisse and LeRoy Neiman as influences, he also nods to Abstract Expressionism. That is, on-air the other night, after taking 75 seconds to draw a dolphin, he said, “Now for some Jackson Pollock. … You know Jackson Pollock?” Then he shook some drops of paint on his canvas and breathed, “Ba! Ba!” like a TV chef adding dashes of his patented spice blend. A print could be yours in four easy payments, CD included.