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Shopping Channel Stars Shun Stigma for Spotlight

Hawking blush, earrings and cookware on cable used to mean a celeb had hit rock bottom. But now, the famous are starring on home shopping channels without shame.

Even reality TV princess Jessica Simpson (search) is joining the ranks of Suzanne Somers, Joan Rivers, Raquel Welch and others by pushing her products on the small screen.

While a few years ago such a move would've indicated a drop into Hollywood obscurity, pop culture experts contend that peddling goods on air has actually become somewhat chic.

"Believe it or not, home shopping has taken on kind of a hip quality," said Robert Thompson, professor of media and pop culture at Syracuse University, who explained that "cheesy reality TV" has paved the way for public acceptance of celebrity sellers.

"In a country that will make William Hung a superstar, it's not surprising," he said. "The cheese factor of these channels is so square that it's cool. You hear people all the time confessing to watching home shopping.... They say it's a guilty pleasure."

These celebs certainly still draw snickers for their on-air moneymaking tactics, but they're laughing all the way to the bank — and extending their time in the spotlight.

Networks won't divulge how much individual stars earn, but they typically pocket 1 to 2 percent of the gross sales of products they pitch, according to a story in the St. Petersburg Times.

Wolfgang Puck (search) had $15 million in sales on The Home Shopping Network (search ) in 2001, according to the Wall Street Journal.

And Connie Stevens (search), who starred in the '60s series "Hawaiian Eye," made nearly $100 million between 1990 and 1999 selling skin care on HSN, according to the Palm Beach Post.

While many stars hawking hand cream are of the faded variety, some younger starts like Simpson, 23, are hearing the call of the home shopping dollar.

On May 17, the "Newlyweds" sensation will debut on QVC ("Quality. Value. Convenience."), dishing out "Dessert," her edible beauty product collection, according to channel spokeswoman Melissa Lublin.

"Jessica Simpson is an interesting case, because she's currently an A-list TV star," said Thompson, who called the pop star and home shopping channel "a match made in heaven."

"She doesn't in any way jeopardize her reputation" because she is famous for being campy and kitschy, he said.

And if Simpson proves successful, other 20-somethings could jump on the branding bandwagon to make big bucks.

"The old stigma of getting on and selling products has really disappeared," said Thompson. "On the other hand you don't expect Tom Hanks to go on QVC and sell a line of soccer balls."

Lublin said QVC doesn’t need famous faces to sell products, because the items speak for themselves. "What sells at QVC is the product, not the face behind it," she said.

But Michael Levine, Hollywood publicist and author of "A Branded World" said celebrities are invaluable when it comes to pitching products — and the success of home shopping networks is a perfect example.

"A well-known idiot is more respected in America than a brilliant recluse," he said. "Fame has become the ultimate credibility. It brings massive attention to a product. Viewers think 'Suzanne Somers said it, so it must be true.'"

The two top-selling home shopping channels — QVC and The Home Shopping Network — each feature stars among their pitch-artists, and the results are impressive. In 2002 QVC, which is carried in 85 million American homes, earned $4.38 billion in sales. HSN, carried in 81 million homes, raked in $2.2 billion in 2003, according to published reports.

However, HSN spokesman Brad Bonhert said a familiar face isn't enough to sell hand cream — stars have to be invested in their products.

"Our personalities are really involved in the process and passionate about what they sell," he said. "Raquel Welch has always had a passion for fine jewelry and it really excites her and that comes across on the screen."

Whether or not they covet the products they push, Thompson said these B, C, and D-list stars get the added benefit of having their egos stroked while they sell.

"Anyone who has chosen a career of becoming a film or TV star most likely has an appetite for attention and love for the audience," he said.