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And while Richard Kaylor, the president of Synchronal, another prominent infomercial producer, once spoke to a reporter about the industry's need for self-regulation and responsibility toward consumers, it was Synchronal that produced the Omexin and Anushka programs a few years later. Maybe Kaylor was in a twilight zone when he was quoted as saying, "To expand we need to attract Fortune 100 companies into the industry. And the way to do that is to stick to the guidelines."

The truth is that for every infomercial you see promoting a Fortune 100 company, you see ten promoting fortune-tellers. And even more promoting Quaalude-smooth self-help gurus, yelping aerobics zealots, and good old-fashioned Music Man-style entrepreneurs, all of them so excited about the things they want to sell you they make Tony the Tiger look like a candidate for Prozac. The ad agency suits might go on about how the infomercial's long-playing, soft-sell, information-rich format is perfect for demonstrating the value of complex, high-ticket products like computers and Volvos, but the people making money in the business don't go near that action. As the refreshingly candid Greg Renker put it in another recent article, "Cher, telling a woman how to change her looks overnight with an instant miracle cure, is more alluring than hearing about General Motors' new Saturn car."

So while the industry's apologists prattle on about respectability and improved product quality, many infomercials are, in fact, becoming more ludicrous, more outrageous in their claims, and more contemptuous of their audience than ever. Like a con man who knows that in order to dupe his mark a second or third time he must present an offer so brazenly outlandish it goes beyond the bounds of disbelief and thus re-enters the realm of truth, several recent infomercials have journeyed into decidedly surreal territory.