Have you ever stayed up late at night watching television because it just seems like it would take too much effort to get ready for bed? In your bleary-eyed, brain-switched-off state, you've probably surfed to a channel where an energetic host was hawking food processors or home spa pampering equipment. During the day, when your brain power is at its height, you'd have simply surfed away. Late at night, however, buying these products suddenly seems like a great idea. Maybe you've even bought one. This, my friend, is the power of the infomercial.

Though most consumers would describe infomercials as annoying, infomercials are a reality of network television broadcasting. It was once the practice for the staff at network headquarters to sign off for the night and go home. In today's 24-hour profit-driven market, networks can't afford to go off the air. There aren't enough viewers during these off-peak hours (2am to 6am) to warrant paying for actual programming, so instead they sell their unused airtime to retailers who create long-form commercials with their allotted time, which is usually about 30 minutes apiece. This is an infomercial.

A typical infomercial consists of a demonstration of the product by a high-energy host who acts as sort of an online life coach to the onlookers, and his or her chit chat is punctuated by frequently repeating a product catch phrase. By using time lapse photography or cutting away, the product is usually proven, during the course of the commercial, to outperform similar products from retail stores in ease of use or functionality. The onlookers in an infomercial can either be a full studio audience, a few people representing the general public, or the host may speak directly to the camera, making you the onlooker.

Some products that are commonly associated with infomercials include alternative health products, fitness machines or regimens, cleaning devices, kitchen appliances, weight loss programs, and media such as CDs, DVDs, or online courses. These products are generally not available in retail stores (except in "As Seen on TV" outlets). The customer is encouraged to call from the comfort of their home within a certain time frame in order to receive special pricing or extra bonus items.

This image of the popular "snuggie" is brought to you by Apple Tree Dental For Kids - pediatric dentist North York with a reminder that if you're tempted to order any dental gadget during your late night TV binging, you might consider asking your family dentist about the pros and cons before purchasing. And now back to our regularly scheduled discussion...

One of the reasons why public television is appealing to viewers is that there aren't any infomercials - or indeed commercials of any sort, in most cases. Private networks get their operating budgets from selling ad space. Public television is funded by public money, which means either taxpayer dollars or donations phoned in from average people watching from their living rooms.

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