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Thursday, March 30, 2006

'American Inventor': Inspiring but Bizarre 

Tonight at 9 will be the third installment of TV's strangest new mix of the remarkable and the pathetic. Thought the off-key caterwaulers of American Idol tryouts are gaper-delay inducers? They mostly lose just self-delusions -- and some of them don't even lose that. ABC's American Inventor parades a far more sad-sack lot, people whose misjudgments about schemes and dreams have cost them beaucoup bucks, jobs and even marriages ... producing little more than but major embarrassment on TV. Examples:

-- A woman who thought her inflatable timeout cell was cool for kids who throw tantrums.
--The fuzzy dude who had to hug his fuzzy "Therapy Buddy" (left) after they got rejected. (Get a blanky!)
-- The man with a Flatulence Deodorizer, a kind of asstivated, er, activated charcoal underwear insert inspired by a smelly episode surrounding his wife. (Bet she's glad he shared that on ABC.)
-- The penniless and wifeless inventor of a tabletop kind of handball he can't stop believing will be the next great Olympic game.
-- The woman who developed a bedside pocket system that's already on the market.

Think American Idol has bickering judges? Inventor Doug Hall and marketing maven Mary Lou Quinlan, who "hails from Philadelphia," frequently clash, usually with one suggesting the other's heartless and wrong-headed. She's actually becoming the star of the show, with her wide-eyed reactions, empathetic speeches and occasional outbursts. (More on her tomorrow.)

But the appeal isn't just some kind of superiority trip ("my life looks pretty good compared to that guy's"). The show gets at dreams we all have, deals with questions we've all wondered. What makes a good idea? Is confidence a good thing or a handicap? How much does success depend on design and presentation, even the looks of the presenter? How divergent can reactions to one idea be? Do we have all have a chance of getting rich off a single good idea?

OK, I'm especially interested because I dabble at inventing. (Of dozens of games I've designed, only one's on the market ... in Finland.) And true, critics have panned the show. But if you have ideas and dreams, or just want some laughs and good life lessons, check out the show.

Then again, if you have an idiot spouse who's on the verge of chucking it all for his handy-dandy wireless light bulbs ("Uh, dear, I think they're called flashlights") , maybe you want to hide the TV section. Hmm. Could that be why my wife refuses to watch?


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