'But wait!' Ronco tells its creditors

The Baltimore Sun

LOS ANGELES -- Veg-O-Matic king Ron Popeil used to love to say, "But wait, there's more!"

But only barely, it turns out, at least in regard to the company he founded.

Ronco Corp., based in California's Simi Valley, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, declaring it had $32.7 million in debts and $13.9 million in assets.

Popeil, 72, an irrepressible pitchman who created "infomercials" to sell products as wide ranging as the Pocket Fisherman, Showtime Rotisserie, the Buttoneer, Mr. Microphone and GLH spray-on hair, is the company's largest creditor.

Two years ago, he sold Ronco, the company he founded in 1958, to a Denver holding company called Fi-Tek VII, court papers show. The price was about $55 million - in what was supposed to be two easy payments.

Popeil is still owed $11.8 million, according to the filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles. Other creditors include the Food Network, Court TV and the QVC home shopping network.

A spokeswoman for Popeil, who lives in Beverly Hills, Calif., said he had no comment on the bankruptcy filing.

Ronco's chief executive officer, John Reiland, said the company would continue its operations uninterrupted and that none of the 95 employees would be laid off.

Chapter 11 allows a business to continue operating while it works out a plan to pay its debts.

Ronco said it has sold $1.4 billion worth of "and-if-you-act-now" gadgets, according to court documents, and had a previous tour through bankruptcy in the 1980s.

Ronco's television ads were so familiar to viewers that they were spoofed by comedian Dan Aykroyd in a famous 1976 sketch on the television program Saturday Night Live.

In the sketch, Aykroyd advertises the "Super Bass-O-Matic '76" by "Rovco." He demonstrates a blender that turns a whole fish into a brown liquid, which is then drunk by Laraine Newman, who co-starred in the segment.

"Wow, that's terrific bass!" she says.

Reiland would not discuss how the company got into its current financial state. But court documents said that an initial $40 million payment to Popeil sliced and diced the company's finances, leaving it severely short of cash.

The company has reached a nonbinding agreement with a new buyer, but Reiland wouldn't say who.

It's not Popeil, the spokeswoman for him said. The man considered to be the father of the infomercial is too busy working on his latest invention - a home turkey fryer.

David Colker writes for the Los Angeles Times. Bloomberg News contributed to this article.

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