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In the case of infomercials, however, experience appears to be a lousy teacher. Indeed, infomercial sales grow dramatically each year. They have become such a staple of the television landscape it's sometimes hard to remember that ten years ago they didn't exist.

In the meantime, the industry has undertaken the usual steps to cultivate respectability--they have their own trade journals and associations, their annual conventions and awards ceremonies. (Emmys are not given to infomercials. Yet.) Industry spokespeople talk about how the business is maturing, forsaking the slippery snake-oil garb of its youth in favor of a more mainstream corporate appearance. To some degree, this is true. In the last few years, large corporate players like Microsoft, Apple, and AT&T have gotten into the act. Ad agencies which once scorned the medium now trumpet their infomercial expertise. And when the next Presidential election rolls around, you can bet that every major candidate will have his own half-hour show. By the end of the decade, we will no doubt see the advent of info-sitcoms, info-miniseries, and even theatrically released info-movies.

But despite these outward trappings of mainstream respectability, sideshow hucksterism remains at the heart of the genre. Because while Greg Renker--president of the Guthy-Renker Corporation, one of the most successful infomercial producers in the business--can claim in one published article that "...we are legitimate, solid business people trying to produce good products," he has also gone on record to say that "...late night is still the best forum...because people's defenses are down then; they're in what you might call the twilight zone."