NEW YORK – What is Tom Hanks' wife, Rita Wilson, doing on the Home Shopping Network? The actress is selling jewelry -- right alongside surprising new HSN pitchwomen Lauren Hutton and Stephanie Seymour.
Network veterans like Suzanne Somers are being joined by big stars and chic types like New York salon owners Edward Tricomi and Joel Warren.
There are two words to explain why so many unlikely types are turning up on the once-lowly sales channel: "ka" and "ching."
"In four hours you can sell a quarter of a million dollars," raves Joel Warren, whose mid-priced Warren Tricomi hair-care line sold out during its first show a few months ago.
"We could do a million dollars in four or five hours. That's huge! You couldn't have those returns in retail!"
Warren Tricomi products and services typically cater to a swanky clientele including Michael J. Fox and Hilary Swank.
A blowout alone, at Tricomi's Rockefeller Center salon, costs at least $55.
But the HSN line features a straightening kit for the low, low price of $36.50, and hair-drying kits -- while supplies last -- for $32.50.
HSN veteran Wolfgang Puck isn't exactly slumming, either: His cookware line nets $15 million year.
Following in Suzanne Sommers' footsteps may sound like a career death wish, but her health and beauty line nets about $50 million a year.
The network's sales reached $1.93 billion in 2001. And since it appears in 173 million households around the world, it makes Martha Stewart's stronghold on Kmart look like kid stuff.
"The whole thing is to try to bring a wide variety of products and brands and personalities to the network, to make it more enjoyable to watch," says HSN spokesman Darris Gringeri, who thinks designer Randolph Duke paved the way for A-listers by joining the network last year.
"The strategy was to look for personalities and products you wouldn't expect to see on a TV shop- ping channel," Gringeri said.
Those personalities, in turn, have the chance to make piles of dough, quickly - minus any controlling corporate entity or overhead.
"If I went to a big makeup company, they'd own Good Stuff," said Hutton, 47, about her "mature" makeup line, launching Sept. 25.
"I'd have almost no control and make much less money. With HSN, I control what I'm selling and since I'm my own venture capitalist, I own it."
But to hear HSN tell it, it's not all about the money.
"There are lots of people who would like to be on for lots of really good reasons," says Marty Nealon, HSN's executive vice president of merchandising.
"There's really a culture here of finding a way to get as many of the right people on as we can, making sure the people coming in are really representing something authentic and something they're passionate about."
Rita Wilson certainly doesn't need the money.
Instead, proceeds from the Cathy Waterman jewelry she'll be selling, starting Dec. 13, will benefit national charities.
The line of gold and silver jewelry features crosses and talismans ranging from $29 to $600. And, by the way, Waterman also sells at Barneys.
On the other hand, it's anyone's guess as to why Stephanie Seymour -- who's married to polo-playing mogul Peter Brant -- will start peddling panties (i.e. "sexy yet comfortable" lingerie) starting Nov. 26.
"I love the idea of being able to talk directly to the consumers about my designs, and I think it's a market that is rapidly changing," says Seymour.
"I think at HSN they get the concept that that shopping at home can be stylish and modern, and it's the way of the future."