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AppreciationApril 15, 2016

The Shopping Network – because you definitely need a Magic Wrench


Wrenches, old iPhones, and Kunzites. Ruth Spencer goes on a journey through the good and the great of television shopping.

I once watched a TVSN host wonder aloud which planet it was that had the rings. She consulted with the producer through her earpiece, then opened it up to people emailing from home before going back to selling a tennis bracelet. People actually did email from home. There’s something glorious about live TV. You can cast hosts for their ability to not shut up, but they will occasionally say absurd things.


Why, with the riches of a century of film, television and podcastery at my fingertips, do I put TVSN on? It’s a question I’m asked often, usually by the other people in the room in quite loud voices.

I can only answer that I find it very relaxing. The ebb and flow of prattle is like a gentle water feature that wants to sell you eye cream. You can ignore it but it never ignores you, chatting away about non-stick cookware and capri pants and congratulating buyers as though they had won something other than credit card charges.


Most people think they’re immune to advertising. Not me. I like to be advertised to. I have to be very careful around TVSN, YesShop and lets face it, the infomercials that soak up the dead air before actual programmes. I have, and I’m being very honest here, Bought Things. I once bought a powder (with prebiotics!) called Carla Oates Inner Beauty that promised to make me beautiful from the inside out.

A powder, that you put in water, that you drink and you become beautiful. Can anyone spot where I went wrong?


I should have just gone to an actual witch. At least she would have done my tarot while the magic potion was brewing. I bought this even though I already knew that prebiotic means fiber. I already knew this could do nothing a carrot wouldn’t achieve and I still allowed my fingers to type in my credit card details. Australians selling snake oil? Seems a bit coals to Newcastle.

When the package arrived the spell had worn off, so I was less excited by the powder than the fact that it came with a cardboard ring sizer, so now I know my ring size, which is just how TVSN like it.


The ring sizes are the most exciting thing about TVSN. During jewellery shows they claim to have limited stock and the sizes are constantly selling out. “J is gone! M and O are low! One J just popped back in to stock, you must clear checkout in 15 minutes ladies, or you’ll lose it!” It’s so frantic and thrilling, like being one of those 80s stock exchange floor traders yelling Buy! Buy! I watch my size pop in and out of stock, a short, fragile, never-to-be-repeated-at-this-price chance to secure a wonderful piece of semi-precious jewellery. Ladies, don’t lose your apatite! Which is a gem, apparently.


Semi-precious is an interesting term. A bit precious. Not entirely worthless. When I hear semi-precious I think turquoise, maybe lapis lazuli. Exotic, but not on par with an emerald or ruby. TVSN has semi-precious gems no one has ever heard of.

When was the last time you coveted a cushion-cut Zultanite, or have you not needed to vanquish Superman lately? Or Indicolite, which sounds like something you’d fail a WOF for. And you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a glamorous Australian blonde being very careful about her pronunciation of Kunzite.


It’s even more perplexing when they have real jewels. I‘ve never considered spending ten grand on anything short of a car, but actual people actually ring up the TV and buy jewellery that costs $10,000. In fact, the most expensive item currently on offer is a strand of South Sea pearls for $18,999. For that price you might as well cut out the middleman and go to Tahiti, spend six months as a pearl diver and then open your own beachside pearl stall because really, what are you coming back for?


New Zealand’s own shopping channel YesShop doesn’t dabble much in the jewel trade – but their infomercials are gems nonetheless. Not blessed with the blithering freedom of actual live TV, YesShop’s hosts pre-record to a bullet-point script. Usually pre-recording means you get a do-over if you mess up, but YesShop has excitingly thrown out that convention leading to something truly original, like the time they pretended we might wear a merino cape as a skirt.


Take Jake and Leo’s Refurbished iPhone 4 show. Jake eyeballs the camera. “I’m here to bring you the wonder and power of the iPhone 4.” I check the clock but even though it went back for Daylight Saving, it didn’t go as far as 2010.


“A refurbished iPhone4 replaces your MP3 player, camera, diary, calendar, and computer.” It’s not explicitly stated but one assumes, also your phone. “We’re also going to be giving you that wall charger today so that you can be charging it at home.” That would be ideal.

New Zealanders are not famous for our silver-tongued spruiking skills. If you ever feel like dying, try my YesShop drinking game and drink every time someone says ‘wonderful’. But have you ever had to speak for 24 minutes about the iPhone 4? Jake and Leo get through all the relevant information in a minute forty, at which point desperation begins to bloom behind their eyes.

If they were on TVSN this is where they’d be free to go off the script and tell an amusing story about the time their phone fell in a toilet or ask Siri which planet has the rings. But no, its time for Leo to show us the apple logo on the back again. He gets a bit Obama on it: “When you see that apple you know you’re in good hands. It speaks of quality, it speaks of power.”


Maybe, but if you want to see quality and power you really want to watch YesShop’s Magic Wrench infomercial, AKA a ticket to Karen Teague’s gun show. Like a blonde Sarah Connor, Karen can really dominate a pile of forged steel.


“If you had a job around the farm, maybe you can relate to this, you’d have to take your socket set, you’d have to take your ring spanners, your adjustable spanners, even your vice grips…forget it!” I can’t relate to that, like not at all, but suddenly I have wrench goals.


Traditionally dangerous topics for a TV host, such as tight nuts and stiff pipes, are no problem for Karen. She wields a couple of Magic Wrenches like nunchucks and the urge to snicker is replaced by something like awe.


We may not have the suave botoxed glam of TVSN but when the YesShop presenter has actually taken the product down the fence-line on a quad bike to fix the irrigation, something close to national pride arises in this jaded bosom. Even if that jade (plus Diopside, which is a gem and not an industrial defoliant) is off TVSN.


So anyway, I ordered a Magic Wrench. At least it’s not just a bunch of Kunzite.

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