Admittedly, in the early days of QVC, I was odd man out. While the executives liked the sales I brought in, they hated the unconventional sales techniques I used. I’m sure things like “Barbie Jell-O Wrestling” and extensive explanations of the rule of thirds during camera presentations didn’t help their opinion of me. Products sold out, but they never felt the ends justified the means.
I came from an advertising background where, as Creative Director for an Atlanta agency, I was part of a team that was changing the game. In Atlanta, we changed it several times. We brought fun and innovation to companies who had never considered it. I was highly respected and very well liked. At QVC, I was the idiot-bastard stepchild for my first few years. It was tough getting used to it.
I was relegated to the midnight-to-four shift. Most of the real crap was sold during that time. I was bored, but kept bringing new and innovative ideas to the show. That’s where “Barbie Jell-O Wrestling” came from. You can read about that in one of my blogs. Here’s the URL: https://stevebryantblog.com/2014/07/14/barbie-jell-o-wrestling/
In 1987, spurred on by the success of BBW Magazine, QVC decided to do a show of fashions for larger women. Not sure of how it would do, they decided to test it out in the overnight hours. Rather than bring in another host to those dreary hours, they gave me the show. Since they couldn’t use the trademarked “BBW” name, they asked me if I had any ideas for a show name. They knew of my background in advertising and that I had come up with many different innovative types of branding.
I came up with the name “Large Lovely Ladies.” I even coined a slogan: “Size and beauty are mutually exclusive.” (I have always believed that.) To my surprise, they loved the ideas. The show was scheduled. They even budgeted models for the show, although in those days, the models were other QVC employees who were willing to work for the hourly payment. They didn’t start using professional fulltime models until the Barry Diller years.
The first show was a rousing success, almost everything sold out. Fan mail (no email then) started coming in. After a few weeks, I was receiving almost a hundred letters a week, a lot for us in those days. It was more than the prime-time hosts, whom I always referred to as “Pharaoh’s Favorites.” I had other names for them, but your kids might read this.
The founders of QVC were mostly old heads with old values. The Chairman seemed to like to rule by fear. I’m sure one of the reasons he didn’t like me was that I wasn’t afraid of him. During the company’s first few years, they developed a tattletale hierarchy. People would rat out their fellow employees to try and gain favor with the powers that be. Guess who they ratted out most often? Yeah, I won’t be going to any company reunions in the near future.
During a few confrontations with management, I told them all they could do was fire me. My sales were too high to do that, unless I ax murdered someone on live TV. I was tempted a few times.
After several successful shows, I was informed that the fashion show was being cancelled. Upper management thought that a man selling women’s fashion was “an abomination.” I argued about the high sales, but they said it was wrong for someone to sell something they didn’t wear themselves. Hey, they never saw me on a sexy Friday night. But that’s a whole ‘nother bottle of whiskey.
Despite the high sales and positive viewer reaction, the “old TV heads” who were steering the ship thought the show would offend many of their viewers. It was back to sterling and onyx rings and cheesy particle board grandfather clocks you had to put together with a screwdriver.
Instead of quitting, I got more creative than ever with my presentations. I even made a puppet out of their mascot at the time, Q-Bird. While viewers liked it, the company tattletales made sure it didn’t last long. I had the puppet doing full presentations and items were selling out. But they told me I had besmirched (their word) the mascot by giving it a gender. Q-Bird was obviously transgendered? You read it here first!
As I’ve said many times, the story has a happy ending. When Barry Diller took over, he called me into his office and asked me why someone with my sales numbers was working overnights. I told him I didn’t know. He responded by telling me that was the first and last time I would ever lie to him. He said I was now working prime time, with a directive to “keep up the fun and your numbers.” However, he did add, “Don’t f**k it up!”
I enjoyed the final 10 years of my 15 years at the Q. Set some sales records that have yet to be broken, even though the company has about 50 million more potential viewers than when I was there. After 15 years, it was time to do other things. Despite their generous offers, I left and had some great and some not-so-great experiences. I was going to pitch a show to the major networks, called “After Q.” But Jamie Farr was busy.
Today, there is no need for special Large Lovely Lady shows. Most fashion presentations on the TV Shopping Channels have a mix of fashion and model sizes. Larger fashions are shown along with all other sizes. Thankfully, people have accepted that “size and beauty are mutually exclusive.” Damn, I was a trendsetter and an abomination at the same time.
These days, I’m writing songs for country artists in Nashville. Finally pursuing music, which is what I should have done right after college. But they, whoever the hell “they” are, say hindsight is 20/20. Mine might be a bit obscured by the Jell-O from the Barbie Dream Pool presentation.
Plus, if I had never worked at QVC, who would have sold all of those hideous silver and onyx rings? And who would have hired three actors to portray federal agents to confront a real jackass in management during a company witch hunt? But that’s another story for another time. (And, I think it was a federal crime.)
© 2019 Steve Bryant – No portion of this or any blog can be reproduced or copied and posted on any online site or read aloud on any audio or video media without the express permission of the author.