Re-Branding the Dynasty: Tori Spelling's HSN clips on YouTube

Curator's Note

In his NY Times obituary, Aaron Spelling is called "the most prolific producer in American television." In addition to his stable of hit programs, Spelling was known for his extravagant displays of wealth. He was attended by a butler in full livery, he built "The Manor" a 123 room house that remains the largest single-family dwelling in California, and he famously had the Dynasty prop department fill the backyard of that Los Angeles home with snow so his daughter Tori could have a white Christmas.

Followers of reality television and/or celebrity gossip know that internecine struggles meant that Tori inherited almost none of her father's estimated $500 million dollar fortune. What she did inherit was his canny knack for turning melodramatic tales into cash cows. Since her father's death, Tori has turned being a Spelling into a cottage industry with a diversified product line. In addition to the two NY Times Bestselling autobiographies, Tori has produced and starred in the VH1 sitcom So NoTORIous and two Tori-brand reality shows for the Oxygen network. In 2007, she started selling a jewelry line, the Tori Spelling Collection, on the Home Shopping Network (HSN).

This clip is pulled from a longer version that is among the 40 or so selections from Tori’s shopping network appearances available on YouTube’s HSN channel. Tori says that her use of trendy technologies has turned her consumers into her friends, and she describes the “vibe” of her line as a hybrid of the organic and the inorganic. The updated Spelling brand sells itself as interactive, aspirational, and chic.

As a recent convert to the soporific, soft core immersiveness of home shopping television viewing, however, I find the YouTube clip archive lacks something of the flow and liveness crucial to the HSN experience.  To borrow Tori's idiom: there's something strangely inorganic about the product-centered clips, something a little more Goldtone and a little less gold. But perhaps this is the real kernel of the Spelling brand: it sells us the idea that the representation of affluence is as valuable as, if not more valuable than, actual wealth.


Leah, I love the connections you're making between Aaron and Tori Spellings' visions of Spelling Entertainment and multimedia synergy (I wanted a 90210 doll so badly as a girl, but my mother thought tie-ins were bad for the imagination).  Perhaps this is why I am so intrigued by Suzanne Runyon's opening observation that "this is such a great show."  Is she heralding Spelling's appearance on the HSN as entertainment in its own right?  Is she celebrating the jewelry display itself?  Is examining the spectacle of Spelling's attempt to design jewelry supposed to be entertaining?  The transient meanings that attach and detach from Runyon's use of show seem to get at your point about the representation of affluence as valuable in its own right.  Tori's performance of moguldom seems to be more important for her cultural capital than her ability to keep any of these businesses running.  Speaking of which, do you remember when she tried to run a bed and breakfast?  Why is watching Tori try to be a business woman so entertaining?

One of the fascinating things about HSN is that it lays bare and celebrates the viewer/consumer subject position in a way other formats do not.  Where the kind of merchandising that Lisa brings to our attention does invite consumer interaction (I bought fake blood soda because I love this show!), on HSN the stuff is the show. 

I think the entertainment factor here comes from a number of places: the poor-little-rich-girl narrative; the spectacle of cultural capital; and, my favorite, the staggering stamina displayed by Suzanne and Tori as they spin descriptive babble for hour after hour.  This is why I find the YouTube archive of clips to be so odd.  It's sort of like a dead letter office... for Tori's burnishing of the Spelling brand. 

And, yes, I watched every episode of Tori and Dean: Inn Love.

Hi Leah. Thanks for this post. The "performance of moguldom" Caetlin references is reality entertainment in its own right. I remember feeling really saddened by the loss of story resulting from Diana's and then JFK Jr's deaths. (And I mean this is the least offensive way possible.)

Taking Caetlin your direction to check the celebratory rhetoric of Etsy's vision, I'll do it again here with Tori's promotion of her fans to friends. She describes the "interactive" nature of her twittering, blackberrying and other social marketing as democritizing. The interactivity has removed her from the celebrity pedestal. Facebook has transformed the word 'friend' into a digital connection, a talking user profile. So maybe Tori's not being hyperbolic. Maybe she is allowing a familiarity through the connection that to some people signals intimacy. Leah, do you follow her twitter feed?

I think you're right that Tori is not being hyperbolic, and that a "friend" can now refer to a digital connection.  But, I think Tori is not quite saying that she isn't on a pedestal.  I think she's suggesting that her consumers now have better access to her on that pedestal.  In any case, I like how she's talking about the pedestal just as we first see the jewelry on the display stands.

I should follow her twitter feed, but at this point, I just follow my husband (who usually tweets from within a few feet of me about something we're both doing) and Conan O'Brien's beard.  I like the format, but I prefer my celebrity gossip with pretty pictures.

I like how they refer to this as "a show," which is, I gather, how these commercials refer to themselves. It seems symptomatic of the phenomenon you're describing -- how Tori Spelling managed to conflate her life and her marketing of her own image. Here's yet another show in which she's the product. Oh, and a semi-crafty necklace (not seen on Etsy, btw.).

I'm surprised that we see as little of her as we do. She's the product but we hardly see her. For additional Spelling fun, there's this:

Thanks, Leah

They do refer to the segments on HSN as "shows".  Which is instructive as a reminder about the etymology of the phrase "a show," since they're providing us with a rudimentary display of goods for sale.  And, since, I guess, Tori has a kind of industrial and ontological investment in finding work as 'Tori Spelling', she is always presenting herself as one of those goods. 

Leah, I followed the link to the HSN Tori Spelling channel site, and I noticed that the channel introduces Tori as a “Hollywood personality” rather than a Hollywood star. The distinction seems instructive – “more goldtone than gold” to borrow your phrase. The online channel also sells her books, including “Mommy Wood” which attempts to rebrand her yet again as a “funny, down-to-earth actress” who “balances life as both a Hollywood starlet and a mom.”  When the book’s blurb then claims that she is a “renowned actress and author,” I found myself longing for the HSN’s frankness about the value of celebrity (as opposed to stardom).

Tori’s blog on the channel includes dozens of comments from fans, many of them performing the interactive intimacy mentioned by Jennifer (“I feel like you are my family. God Bless.”)  Several of the fan comments mention reluctantly that their Tori purchases broke and inquire about the possibility of refunds or exchanges (after HSN denied those requests.) The fans view Tori as responsible for the “wonderful”/”classic”/”amazing” designs but don’t view her as responsible for the shoddy craftsmanship of the jewelry or the restrictive return policies of HSN.  The fans engage Tori as a “personality,” and Tori encourages their expressions of devotion to her with quasi-spiritual fashion advice.  In her January blog entry on building a spring wardrobe she muses, “Look within.  I know you have great pieces.”


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