In July of 1985, nestled in the murky trailer parks of Clearwater, Florida, millionaires Roy Speer and Bud Paxson set out to revamp the glittery future of American retail by broadcasting a nonstop merchandising circus known as the Home Shopping Network. Run much like a marathon auction, manic and mildly attractive "spokespeople" suckered one hypnotized viewer after another into believing that they needed their chintzy products.

Americans love to be told what to think-especially by televised peddlers-and the "Shop in the comfort of your own home" directive proved so compelling that the stock value of HSN catapulted from $3 to $58 in a mere ten years. With the help sales virtuoso good-ol-boy Bubblin' Bobbi Ray, the entrepreneurial duo moved luxury items faster than anyone could exclaim "cubic zirconium!" From elastic-waisted "lounging slacks" to inflatable hemorrhoid pillows, products flattered by a wide-screen TV proved irresistible to fixated Mabelline eyes. The sparkles of a genuine sapphire pendant scintillated on 48" monitors, especially when accentuated by a model's hydro-penetrating, anti-aging, luxury-moisturized nose.

Before long, HSN had a regular viewing audience, with each Network junkie committing from 2-10 hours per day. The producers got so good, in fact, that they learned to generate up to $1 million in sales in two hours.

But those were the glory days of HSN. Since then, the Network has been outjockeyed by its more up-scale competition, QVC. This household acronym, which stands for Quality, Value, and Convenience, wisely appeals to a wealthier, though still hopelessly tasteless audience. It projects a high-brow image of quality missing at HSN, exemplified in its use of trusted television personalities as merchandise peddlers. Examples include: "Charles Heston Presents the Bible," Marie Osmond and her collector dolls, and Richard Simmons's "Deal-A-Meal." They even reeled in Joan Rivers to released her line of jewelry on the show. The bob-bon-munching, romance-novel-reading sector of the population loved Joan, and at the rate of 10,000 bangle bracelets in 15 minutes, Joan loved them back.

With the burgeoning success of QVC, the white trash-oriented networks like HSN have fallen by the wayside. Now, at $2.1 billion a year, the industry is lucrative enough to persuade even the likes of MTV to swallow their albeit limited sense of decorum. Many of these new shows successfully shift the consumerist ambiance of other home shopping channels from tacky enough to affix memos to your bulletin board to only as tacky as shopping malls and MTV themselves. They're still not great, but they're somewhat digestible.