HOME SHOPPING NETWORK: With ritual regularity, some writer on the culture beat will have a revelatory moment while channel-surfing and exclaim, with a mixture of shock and affront, "The TV is trying to sell me things!" Sometimes, they’ll remember this moment later and pitch it to their boss, the result being something like "From Bree to Me," a feature that ran in the Washington Post on Tuesday.
Websites such asSeenOn.comhave gotten plenty of ink, in this column and a hundred other places. They’re an aggregator site that partners with networks and cable channels to sell clothes, furniture, cookware, souvenirs and anything else linked to hit shows like Desperate Housewives, Dancing With The Stars and Las Vegas.
There’s nothing surprising about being able to go online and buy coffee mugs and ball caps with show logos, but what seems to raise blood pressure is how it wants to let you buy, as Jennifer Frey wrote with unconvincing rube-like amazement in the Post, "those snazzy Diane von Furstenberg slacks that made Delinda Deline look so good during the Nov. 24 installment of Las Vegas ... They’re black wool gabardine, available in sizes 2, 4, 6 and 10 for $159."
Most people would probably react to Frey’s article with a passive, even puzzled, shrug, since we all know that the TV is — and has been for many decades now — trying to sell us stuff. Commercials are seemingly built into TV’s DNA, an inheritance from radio, its ancestor, while product placement has been around for almost as long, though it’s been getting smarter. (NBC’s 30 Rock and The Office have become achingly ironic about their product placement, shilling product with a college kid’s wise-ass smirk.)
The mistake Frey, and too many other people, seem to make is to believe the marketing hype behind sites like SeenOn.com. TV is becoming, as Frey sees it, "for those who don’t just want to watch their favorite characters on the 50-inch flat screen. It’s for those who want to dress like them, smell like them, drive like them and be surrounded by their possessions, right down to the colors on the walls."
What’s really interesting is that ABC is offering viewers the chance to buy wardrobe items from everyone on the cast of Ugly Betty — including the fashion-challenged Betty herself. Taken out of the show’s context, items like TSE’s cashmere turtleneck, or Amber Sun’s jersey skirt, hardly look like the character’s fashion crimes. The poinsettia sparkle sweater from Talbot’s is pretty nasty, though.
Frankly, it’s hard to imagine just what’s so strange about viewers wanting to own what they see on the tube — there’s a whole cable channel devoted to nothing more than that, after all (see the title of this item, above.) In the end, Frey gets Nell Minow, Yahoo!’s "Movie Mom," and the daughter of the FCC commissioner who once called TV "a vast wasteland," to say what she’s been thinking: "We connect to television in a way that is completely different than we do movies or music," says Minow. "I think it’s because it’s in our house, and we go into the houses of the people we see. There’s an intimacy. And this takes it one step further, where you can replicate the same living room in your very own house. I think it’s creepy."
Perhaps there are people who’d duplicate Bree’s dining room in their own home, but even their family would think they’re a bit nuts, and until they insist that their husband is murdered by their boyfriend and their son is driven into homelessness, they’re mostly harmless. The rest of us know the difference between fiction and reality, however, even if, every now and then, we think we’d look pretty good in that suit, or wonder where you get a chair like that.