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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Billy Mays and a case of odd TV timing

I, like most of America, was introduced to Billy Mays through his Oxi-Clean commercials.

And while it's hard to say with a straight face that you can really connect with someone through infomercials -- well, except maybe Matthew Lesko -- Billy Mays' emphatic delivery is something you remembered.

For a TV pitchman, that's half the battle right there.

Mays was brash, boisterous and had an impeccable, painted-on beard. And while he was absolutely cartoon-ish in his enthusiasm for a household cleaning product, there was also something extremely likable about his in-your-face style.

In a lot of ways, he was like George Costanza's version of the 'By Mennen' jingle. Annoying at first, but the more you walked past a food chopper at Bed Bath & Beyond, he seemed to grow on you like a second skin.

So in a week filled with celebrity deaths, Sunday's announcement that Billy Mays passed away probably jarred me the most. Not in an intensely personal way, mind you. Rather, with a "man, I was just thinking about that guy" sense of strangely random timing.

While flipping through the channels on Saturday morning, I stumbled upon Mays' Discovery Channel reality show "Pitchmen" -- which follows Mays and his partner, Anthony "Sully" Sullivan, as they look for new products to peddle.

I'd never heard of it before, and really, I only felt compelled to stop because I recognized the guy who happened to be on camera at the time. Turns out it was "Survivor" winner Ethan Zohn, who was on the show pitching his EZ Crunch Bowl -- a two-chambered breakfast vessel that holds milk separately from cereal so that your Corn Flakes won't get soggy.

I have to admit, watching Zohn make his pitch to Mays in a board room was interesting -- if only because I never knew that some people actually ate cereal in increments (eat, pour, eat, pour some more) so that they could avoid having to deal with soggy remnants.

It was a silly "Seinfeld"-ian discussion, to say the least. But the philosophical parameters of a bowl that eliminated cereal sogginess really proved entertaining and amusing to me.

So I kind of left it at that and figured, "hmmm, that's a show I might want to get back to" or at least write about it for this blog now that summer is nothing but Food Network shows for me.

And then Sunday I read the headline that Mays died.

Not profound. Not prophetic. Just odd.

Anyway, I have a feeling "Pitchmen" could have been a really popular reality show had it been written about or publicized a bit more. In honor of Mays, Discovery Channel is airing a "Pitchmen" marathon tomorrow starting at 10 a.m. It'll culminate with a never before seen season finale at 9 p.m.

Below, I've also added a very funny Mays spot for ESPN and an Oxi-Clean commercial that shows him as his "pitch" perfect persona.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Glad you found that ESPN clip. Billy convinced Cole to get me the Sliders Pan for Christmas last year. I have to say it does make uniform mini-burgers.

By Blogger Antony, At July 6, 2009 at 11:23 AM  

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