August 21, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

It slices! It dices! It stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover and it’s playing at a theater near you! That’s right, infomercials, the oft-mocked black sheep of commercial television, have invaded the entertainment world. Recently, half-hour paid programming for films such as Lethal Weapon 4 and Slums of Beverly Hills has run next to long-form commercials for the Banjo lure and the Sobakawa pillow. The Slums spot is an extended movie preview mixed with cast and crew interviews, while Lethal‘s ad offered videotapes of the previous Lethal Weapon films, which could, of course, be purchased just by calling the number on your screen. But wait, there’s more! The music industry’s getting in on the infomercial action too. The Beastie Boys have hawked their new album, Hello Nasty, in a half-hour infomercial parody that also functioned as a real ad (operators really were standing by). And Island Records recently ran 30-minute paid programs about Tricky‘s and Pulp‘s new albums.

”It seemed the best way to get airplay on artists that don’t garner major radio or TV airplay,” says Alexis Aubrey, Island Records’ associate director of marketing, on the use of infomercials. To air a video, ”MTV really needs to have massive radio support and a ton of buzz. These artists are a little left of center.” As for films, infomercials ”give the studio a chance to tell the story of the movie the way they want it told,” says Steve Dworman, editor of The Infomercial Marketing Report. Indeed, why trust the unpredictable media to air your hype or video when you can do it yourself for a fraction of a major studio film’s marketing budget? (Costs for making and airing an infomercial, Dworman says, usually start at about $500,000.) ”Getting 30 minutes in prime time is hard,” says Thomas F. Lesinski, a Warner exec who oversaw Lethal‘s spot, ”so infomercials are fairly cost-effective.”

And just plain effective, say people who make them. ”You don’t have to be a college graduate to know that advertising sells,” says Ronco founder and infomercial pioneer Ron Popeil. ”If the movie is successful and you’ve used infomercial time, then by God you’re doing the right thing.”

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