By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated January 14, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

She is tinier than you would imagine. Slim as a bread stick. And dressed in the kind of elegant, ladies-who-lunch red suit that has elevated the Brooklyn- born stand-up comic to the fashion industry’s International Best-Dressed List. At the moment she is being tough, standing at a table strewn with products that may or may not make it to the merchandise racks of her new hour- long Can We Shop? Starring Joan Rivers. The syndicated daily show, which premieres Jan. 17 in more than 120 markets, will give America its first home- shopping program not on cable. ”Yup, love it,” she says about an array of plates and bowls. ”Our lady (as she refers to the woman at home watching) could use these, but are they so busy that she’ll have to buy new place mats and napkins to go with them?” ”Okay, I wouldn’t wear that thing. But I could see (my daughter) Melissa in one of them,” she says, analyzing a novelty warm-up jacket. ”Nope. No, no, no, no! I’d never wear that, I can’t sell it, take it away!” she barks at a pair of sweaters bogged down with appliqued nautical motifs, glitter, and angora bits. ”If I were a Jew and I were fleeing from Hitler, I would face the firing squad rather than wear that!” Oh, lighten up! You want perky and pious, buy from Kathie Lee Gifford. This is Joan Rivers doing the selling. The Joan Rivers who has spent 25 years telling rude jokes (ask Liz Taylor) and more than a decade as a brash talk- show host. Her most recent gig, the low-rated Joan Rivers Show, was canceled at the end of December after a five-year syndicated daytime run, but the 60-year-old entertainer has already proven her value as a pitchwoman: She’s been hawking her own line of jewelry and clothing on her friend Barry Diller’s money-gushing QVC Shopping Network since 1990, and to good effect. Since its introduction that same year, the Joan Rivers Classics Collection has done $60 million in sales on the cable network. The idea behind Can We Shop?, naturally, is to hook a lot of viewers who love Joan, who love celebrities, who need everything from jewelry to jewelry cleaner (miracle, nontoxic cleaner, to be exact), and who may never have seen QVC or Home Shopping Network or their cable brethren. The goal of the show-a joint production of QVC, Tribune Entertainment (syndicator and killer of The Joan Rivers Show), and Regal Communications, which owns her merchandising company-is to move $200,000 worth of product per show, with a half dozen items featured each hour. Although stations will receive 15 percent of the program’s net sales, Rivers claims she will not get a cut: ”I’m always the kind that goes for a salary. I want to be assured.” Executive producer Larry Ferber, a 20-year veteran of talk shows who came with Rivers from her previous show, sees Can We Shop? as ”entertainment information with selling.” What that means is that celebrities and attractive pitchpeople will come to chat as well as to hawk. People like eccentric diet- and-fitness guru Susan Powter. One of the show’s buyers tells Rivers that Powter wants to meet with the host before appearing on an upcoming show. ”She wants to share her vision,” the buyer says. ”Vision? Vision! My vision is that I don’t have a f — -ing minute to share my vision!” says Rivers.