Back in the 1930s, my now 81-year-old mother predicted the invention of the dishwasher. Had she been the mechanical type, she might have actually built this invention and raked in millions of dollars (and I would now be typing this article from a villa in Tuscany). The promise of inventing a product at the kitchen table and making millions of dollars is an iconic American Dream, a potentially realized fantasy upon which TLC capitalizes in its new reality TV show “Homemade Millionaire.”
Hosted by the perky Kelly Ripa (a female Ryan Seacrest who has herself earned millions of dollars re-inventing herself from soap starlet to talk show princess), “Homemade Millionaire” pits three women against each other to win a coveted slot to market their product on the Home Shopping Network (HSN). While winning contestants on “Homemade Millionaire” could potentially earn seven figures, it is unlikely this copycat show will make much profit for TLC. Part of the Discovery Channel empire, TLC struck oil earlier this season with “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” (think “Survivor” with private planes).
Like most reality TV show these days, “Homemade Millionaire” is a mashup of former successful reality TV shows. Whereas the inventors of the products featured on “Homemde Millionaire” are expected to come up with unique ideas, the producers of “Homemade Millionaire” lazily borrowed bits and pieces from other successful reality TV shows-a reality that struck me the first night I watched the show. Everything on “Homemade Millionaire” seemed eerilie familiar, from the tense music to quick camera shots to snarky judges. The contestants on the show seemed to be chosen by teality TV central casting; both episodes I watched featured an overconfident Olga and nervous Nellie, each of whom thought she had justwhat the judges were looking for.
What sets “Homemade Millionaire” apart from other reality TV shows is the staunch devotion each woman has to her products. On the cooking products episode, for instance, a dynamic sprite named Kitty Starling pitched a portion-control line of plates, bowls and glassware that graphically outlined the proper serving size of various foods and beverages. Starling’s maternal protectiveness and steadfast belief in her product blinded her to the fact that, not only were her dishes and glassware unattractive, it was unclear how they were supposed to be used. Worse for Starling, although she was passionate about her product and its utility for losing weight, it took her 20 minutes to explain what her product actually did, an eternity for fast-paced formats like HSN, the TV network on which her dishware would be marketed if Starling won (which, not surprisingly, she didn’t).
Starling’s chief competitor on that episode of “Homemade Millionaire” was a woman so nervous, I craved a Valium just watching her. The contestant, Debra Lee, had invented a clever baking product called Cake Huggers, an edible decorated cupcake wrapper made from potatoes and vegetable oil. Although at the beginning Lee’s hands literally shook with fright as she demonstrated for a focus group how her Cake Huggers invention worked, by the last segment of the show she seemed more poised and noticeably prettier (beauty makeover, no doubt). Although Lee beat out rival Starling, the judges made it clear it was Lee’s product that prevailed, not her fidgety personality. Since the inventor also presents the product to shoppers on HSN, one judge wished aloud it was the more charistmatic Starling who had invented the Cake Huggers, a suggestion at which weight-loss missionary Starling would have likely snorted given her apparent contempt for cupcakes. (Starling proudly referred to herself as an RFP, recovering fat person.)
The second “Homemade Millionaire” episode I viewed depicted similar dynamics between the two finalists. Carissa Brown’s line of non-gaping, figure flattering blouses for busty women was not as unique or trendy as her rival Jennifer Martinson’s Magic Dress (a Zelig-like dress that could be changed into multitudinous variant dress styles via clever use of zippers). Brown acted as if she had the contest sewn up from the very beginning and looked stunned when Kelly Ripa announced that Martinson was the winner. Like a typical Bachelerotte predator, Brown had sized up Martinson as too shy and mousy to win the contest, a tactical mistake that may have caused her to resist the coaches’ advice in several instances.
As do most reality TV show hosts, Kelly Ripa plays an understated role on “Homemade Millionaire” in stark contrast to Donald Trump on “The Apprentice.” Still, some glimmers of the out-there Ripa of “Regis and Kelly” fame appear. When the HSN judges viewed Karissa Brown’s tops for busty women, Ripa made the predictable joke about that not being a problem to which she could relate.
Despite the usual reality TV show cheesiness, “Homemade Millionaire” is a fun watch, if only to psychoanalyze the contestants and pick up a few business tips. It is the perfect Friday night show to fall asleep to while watching TV. And who knows? You may just dream up the next idea for a better mousetrap.
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