Channel surfers may have thought they'd discovered a new paid programming station earlier this month. Not so--that was Channel 11's latest fund-raising drive, featuring New Age health guru Gary Null and lightweight financial guru Suze Orman. Their modestly titled infomercials--Null's How to Live Forever and Orman's The Courage to Be Rich, both designed to sell their books and tapes as pledge premiums--played almost nonstop while the authors joined fawning PBS hosts during breaks. They're not exactly Nova.
SHOWS BOIL DOWN TO THIS...
NULL Eat more fruits and vegetables, exercise, cut out fatty foods, caffeine, alcohol, and other bad things. Think positive.
ORMAN Don't buy a lot of crap you don't need; save the money instead. Organize your home office; invest in Roth IRAs; get a 15-year rather than 30-year mortgage. Think positive.
NULL Claims his program will "reverse the aging process," but during pledge break he explains, "See, when I say 'live forever,' forever should be about 150 years."
ORMAN Advice mostly consists of Stuart Smalley-ish exhortations to gain power over your money through your thoughts. Helpful hints--like "use discount brokers"--are so basic they're harmless. Her program will give you the courage to retire in a house you own with enough money to eat out once in a while.
MOST BRAZEN CLAIM
NULL Describes a patient named Luanne, who "came to see me three years ago. At that time she had hepatitis C, herpes one, two, and six...Well, she drank 23 cups of coffee a day, and she had to have sugar in each one of them...I cleaned her up...Luanne has no hepatitis, no herpes...She is negative across the board. Now a lot of people say that's not possible. And they're right. It's not possible. But I did it."
ORMAN Says WTTW will make viewers rich: "Tonight we're going to partner with you...Tonight we're going to give you the tools so you can walk into the new millenium with that which you deserve--financial freedom."
NULL Largest pledge package goes for $200 and includes a videocassette of the program plus two of his books. His spiel: "Call this station, call your local station and support them, because I believe this will not only help you improve your life--for many of you it could save your life."
ORMAN Largest pledge package goes for $250 and includes a nine-hour audiocassette workshop "with 30 live people just like you." Her spiel: "When you have 30 people along with you...hearing the laugh, hearing them cry...watching them transform right before your very ears, you will see that you're a part of these people. They will become your friends, and in the meantime take you right along with them in their transformation."
MOST OVER-THE-TOP MOMENT
NULL Joins pledge person Rhea flipping through the pages of his book The Complete Guide to Health and Nutrition.
Rhea: It is amazing! Anything that you can possibly think of is in this book! And very clearly laid out!
Null: Athlete's foot, calluses, corns.
Null and Rhea: Rashes.
Null and Rhea: Dry skin, headache.
ORMAN PBS host Kathy has followed Orman's advice and cleaned out her closets, bringing bags of old clothes to the studio. She holds up a small but bulging change purse. "Remember when you said that you'll go through your closets and you'll find things, you'll find money? Well, I didn't find a $100 savings bond, but I found all this change! I do homework because I wanna know if it really works...and it does!"
NULL Doctors and "the medico-techno industry"--anyone who doesn't endorse his ideas, particularly his balding cure, which calls for drinking a lot of juice. He says it worked for him. "You can change a genetic sequence...The guys at MIT don't like that, the guys at Harvard don't like that, because they're not gonna get the billion dollar royalties on the, you know, genetic engineering."
ORMAN Other financial advisers. "So many of you are calling in with the question 'How do I find a good financial adviser?' Look in the mirror. Nobody has your interests at heart more than you...Those three-piece-suited financial advisers on Wall Street don't want you to think that way because they're making a living off you."
WAIT A MINUTE...
NULL Claims his hair used to be gray. In the program it's a medium brown, and in the more recently taped pledge segments it's practically black. "Now, do you see any gray hair?" he asks Rhea. "Well, a couple," she says. "No you don't! Arrest her!" Null says, laughing. "It's my eyes," Rhea apologizes. "I'm not on his program. It's my bad eyes."
ORMAN Isn't she making a living off you by getting you to buy her books and tapes?
TROUBLE IN PARADISE
NULL Dr. Andrew Weil, another alternative medicine author on PBS, told Time that Null's claims about reversing the aging process are "ridiculous...Aging is a one-way process." Time also notes that in Null's latest book, Get Healthy Now!, he endorses questionable cancer therapies like anti-neoplastons, "peptides derived in part from human urine," and "a long-discredited argument" that AIDS might not even be caused by HIV.
ORMAN Forbes reported there are patent untruths in the book jacket bio on Orman's 1998 best-seller, The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom. She's indentified as head of her own financial planning firm, but "neither she nor the firm has done any paid financial planning in years." The bio also says she holds a current license as a commodities trading adviser, but "that actually lapsed in 1990." Her video jacket claims 18 years of major Wall Street institution experience when, "in fact, she has 7." And though her publisher's Web site claims she advises 1,000 new clients each year, Forbes found they're "simply fans making inquiries by mail."