If Ronco is part of Austin now, then these funky TV ads are Austin history

This image from a television commercial shows Ron Popeil, founder of Ronco, selling some of the company’s products. Ronco — known for such gadgets as the Veg-O-Matic and the Pocket Fisherman — is now headquartered in Austin.

You might know Ronco Brands, a new Austin-based holding company, has filed to raise $30 million in an initial public offering.

Founded by inventor and entrepreneur Ron Popeil in 1964, Ronco is famous for gadgets sold on late-night infomercials. Though it has struggled financially in recent years, Ronco maintains that it has sold over $2 billion in Ronco-branded products in the U.S. since its inception.

 

Let’s look back at a few classics from decades ago:

 

Take that, BeDazzler!

 

Awww, yiss. The original gangster.

 

Perpetuating stereotypes and enabling creeps in cars since 1978!

 

Hear that? That’s the sound of every hipster in town flocking to eBay …

 

Nothing says sex appeal like “rich foamy dust.”

 

“Want to come over? I got ‘Boogie Nights.'” “On DVD?” “Nah, baby. On 8-track!”

Austin drag queen returns for another lap on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

Sashaying away early from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” couldn’t stop one Austin drag queen’s rising star. Cynthia Lee Fontaine is back in the competition for season 9.

RuPaul’s Drag Race season 8 premiere featuring Austin’s own Cynthia Lee Fontaine, at Ironwood Hall on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Erika Rich for American-Statesman)

The zany performer, who was eliminated in the third episode of the show’s eighth season last year, was revealed Friday as the ninth and current season’s secret 14th contestant. Fontaine also announced the news on her Instagram.

The flamboyant comedy performer, a fixture at Oilcan Harry’s in downtown Austin, was diagnosed with stage 1 liver cancer shortly after returning to town from filming season eight. Fontaine (aka Carlos Hernandez) has since gone into remission, and the storyline featured prominently in her return to the show.

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Good afternoon miss amores: Today marks one year I received my first Chemo treatment for my live cancer stage 1. Today I can say I'm blessed because I'm on remission for almost 7 months! Thanks to my parents for been my guardians and angel true all this journey (maria and Rene on the pic) thanks to my sister @acidbetty for taking care of me and her friendship!!!! @misslailamcqueen you were an angel and friend support me in this experience te amo !!! To my best friends Miguel, Jeremy , Gloria , Javier and Chris love you guys !!!! To my family , and drag family thank you !!! To world of wonder and logo tv thank you for everything!!!!!!To all miss amores cucu fans you are amazing!!! Do not forget to help, support this cause and spread love !!! Blessings and Celebrate life !! #misscongeniality #happycucu #letskickcancerinthecucu #rpdr 🎗🎗🎗

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“It’s a wonderful experience to represent Austin, Texas, my Hispanic community, and my community here in Austin,” Fontaine told Austin360 before the debut of “Drag Race” season 8. “We are equipped with great performers — female, male, androgynous, campy, trashy, whatever — and this city provides everything in between. So I’m just proud that I can represent a little piece of that and share it with the entire world.”

Oilcan Harry’s will host “Drag Race” viewing parties all season on Friday nights, so you can root for Fontaine on her home turf. Watch Fontaine’s “Meet the Queens” interview for season 9 below.

‘Veronica Mars’ started as a YA novel set at Austin-area Westlake High School

 

A long time ago, “Veronica Mars” used to be set in Austin. But we haven’t thought about that lately at all. Until now.

Kristen Bell plays the title character in “Veronica Mars.” The film version of the ’90s television series opened in March, 2014. CREDIT: ROBERT VOETS

Fans of the the CW’s criminally short-lived teen detective series “Veronica Mars” are well aware that the show took place in the radically divided Neptune, Calif., a town where all that separated the elite socialites from the seedy criminals was a murky gray line of questionable morality.

But, as Entertainment Weekly has revealed, the show wasn’t always set in California. In fact, “Veronica Mars” wasn’t even originally imagined as a TV show. At first, it was going to be a Young Adult novel set right here in Austin at Westlake High School, and the titular character later became Veronica’s dad, Keith.

First things first: If you haven’t already seen “Veronica Mars,” you’re missing out. The plot centered around Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), a high school student who moonlighted as a private eye for her father Keith. Keith was a former sheriff who opened up his own detective agency when he failed to get re-elected after he accused a Neptune socialite of murdering his own daughter (and Veronica’s best friend).

Related: This year’s ATX Television Festival is scheduled for June. Here’s what’s scheduled so far.

“Veronica Mars” was full of noir, camp, crime, quippy teens and lots of high school mysteries to solve. It also went to some pretty dark places in its examinations of class, race, wealth, sex and morality. The show was cancelled after three seasons, but a crowd-funded film was released in 2014 after a fourth season pilot was ordered by a network but never aired. Since the film’s release, series creator Rob Thomas has partnered with Austin author Jennifer Graham to write two books continuing the story of the plucky sleuth.

Rob Thomas on the red carpet for the movie Veronica Mars in Austin, Texas on March 7, 2014. (Thao Nguyen/FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Anyway, Thomas originally intended for the story to be told as a young adult novel. He started a draft, “Untitled Teen Detective,” in 1996. That draft was shared with Entertainment Weekly this week for its “Hollywood’s Greatest Untold Stories” issue.

From the archives: Fresh from filming ‘Veronica Mars,’ Rob Thomas returns triumphant

Thomas set “Untitled Teen Detective” in Austin. His story revolved around Keith Mars, teenage detective. Keith became a detective after his father quit a promising career with the Austin Police Department to open up a private investigation agency. Like in the TV show, there is no mother figure in the picture. Also like in the show, the titular young detective starts out by catching the parents of his wealthy Westlake High School classmates in after-hours trysts at seedy motels.

via GIPHY

Another Texas twist: Keith pines for a popular girl who’s said to be dating a University of Texas football player.

But perhaps the biggest Austin element to the “Veronica Mars”-that-almost-was is a still-unsolved mystery that’s only hinted at. In the original draft, Keith discovers that the reason his dad left the police force is because he knowingly sent the wrong men to Death Row for involvement in Austin’s “Chocolate Shop Murders case,” a name which bears a striking resemblance to the real-life, still-unsolved Austin yogurt shop murders from 1991.

Years later, when Thomas took ideas from the draft into a spec script he sold to UPN (now The CW), Keith Mars became the disgraced law enforcement father figure, the main character became Veronica, and the main plot centered on a different kid of murder.

All of the Texas setting came natural to Thomas. He grew up in Texas, graduating from San Marcos High school in 1983. His father was a vice-principal at Westlake until the early 1990s, and Thomas attended Texas Christian University on a football scholarship before transferring to UT and graduating in 1987. Thomas was working as a high school teacher at John H. Reagan High School in Austin when he wrote the first draft of “Untitled Teen Detective,” and many characters in “Veronica Mars” were named for Austinites he met or musicians he played with. The music of several Austin bands also played in the show.

From the archives: ‘Veronica Mars’ film has many Austin music moments

Alas, the Texas version of “Veronica Mars” is not the version that made it to the small screen. Maybe someday, if Netflix reboots the series (one can only hope) a mystery might take Veronica all the way to Austin.

Why I’m a feminist who is loving professional wrestling and WWE right now

It’s a good time to be a wrestling fan who happens to be a feminist.

World Wrestling Entertainment’s biggest event of the year, WrestleMania, is this weekend, and this athlete-turned-academic who once hated everything about commercial sports will watch every minute of it.

Two of the biggest male wrestlers, John Cena (right) and The Miz, will be joined in a much-hyped match this weekend with their partners, Nikki Bella and Maryse, who are among the new wave of women wrestlers changing the face of the WWE. Contributed by WWE.

I’ve been a feminist for longer than I’ve been a wrestling fan, and when I first watched wrestling as a high schooler — my first boyfriend was a fan — I didn’t quite know how the two might intertwine many years later when I picked it up again.

I’m drawn to wrestling because of the silly, overdramatic plotlines, not unlike the “Days of Our Lives” era of my youth. (My parents never miss an episode, to this day. Mostly because of my dad. That’s a think piece for another day.) I’m fascinated with the history of the brand. Vince McMahon’s ownership of the WWE goes back to 1980, but he’s the third generation McMahon to helm a professional wrestling league. There have been many leagues, many owners, more tragedies and scandals than you could count, and my boyfriend, Eddie, a wrestling savant if there ever was one, can spin those stories all day long.

Wrestling has all the elements of professional sports that I hated for many years, but now that I’ve started to accept that celebrity drama, outrageous salaries and even bigger egos are part of all of them, even the “real” sports of baseball, basketball and football, I can appreciate the narrative and theatrics of entertainment sports.

If wrestling is as much performance art as sport, what kind of story is the WWE telling these days?

From what I’ve seen in the months leading up to WrestleMania, that message is this: Women are bench-pressing, show-stealing badasses, just like men.


Charlotte Flair, center, is one of the top wrestlers in all of the WWE right now, but Bayley, far left, is a new fan favorite who is considered one of the biggest stars competing at this weekend’s WrestleMania. Contributed by WWE.

In my first round of being a wrestling fan, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin were bringing this historic entertainment brand into the 21st century, trying to find just the right balance of flash, crass and sweaty might. They bad boy days of the 80s and 90s were coming to an end, and wrestlers like Chyna and Lita had fans wondering just what women might accomplish in the ring.

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Front page. #womenswrestling #wrestlemania @wwe @usatoday

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Now, as a cover story in USA Today this week explains, power couple Triple H, a wrestler-turned-exec, and Stephanie McMahon, a wrestling heir-turned-wrestler-and-exec, are overseeing a totally different kind of transformation, one that puts women in the center of the ring, not simply as eye candy or token athletes. The female wrestlers are no longer called “Divas” (even though their reality show plays up that image), and they wrestle in some of the most hyped matches of both “Raw” and “SmackDown,” the weekly WWE shows. The brand as a whole now acknowledges women’s athleticism and ability to captivate an audience that is now nearly 40 percent female.

You could make the argument that the women at the center of this WWE revolution are getting more regular airtime and more viewers than any other female athletes in American sports.

More than 70,000 fans will be packed into the stadium when Wrestlemania kicks off on Sunday, and no one will draw larger cheers than Bayley, a bubbly, kid-friendly pop star of a wrestler who is about to dethrone John Cena as the most popular athlete in the WWE right now.

Bayley currently holds the WWE Raw Women’s Championship title, but even if she loses it in this weekend’s WrestleMania, she’s still considered the most popular wrestler in all of the WWE right now. Contributed by WWE

Bayley is sweeter than Hannah Montana, less racy than Miley Cyrus and tough enough to fly off the turnbuckle to take down a 275-pound opponent. (That opponent was Nia Jax, a member of the extended Dwayne Johnson family, who, in case you were wondering, we think is going to win the title this weekend.)

Sunday’s event is a four-hour celebration of machismo, but there’s a fair bit of fem-chismo, too. Bayley is one of more than a dozen female wrestlers on the roster right now. Some of them star in a pair of reality shows on the WWE Network, including Nikki Bella, who is the real-life and character girlfriend of John Cena and star of “Total Bellas.” This weekend, she’ll stand toe-to-toe with Maryse, the wife of another wrestler named The Miz, and the four of them are scheduled for a tag team match.

MORE: The WWE and the Women’s Revolution: You Wish You Could Wrestle Like A Girl

With Bayley in the pole position and other top female wrestlers, including Charlotte and Sasha Banks, earning top billing, this year’s WrestleMania shows just how far the WWE has come since the Hulk Hogan days, but let’s not get too carried away.

A few weeks ago, my 10-year-old son asked: “Do the men and women ever wrestle each other?” I hemmed and hawed about how they don’t but they should. Eddie cut to a biological fact I like to ignore: That men are, for the most part, fundamentally stronger than women. There are certainly female wrestlers who could match some of the men — it’s been nearly 20 years since Chyna was the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble and Charlotte has been a proponent of more co-ed matches — but I doubt we’ll see full parity in terms of salaries, airtime and match placement, thanks in part to biology but also to the ungodly strength of many of the male athletes that make me question the enforcement of WWE’s rule against steroid use.

WWE still has plenty of misogyny baked into its brand. Xavier Woods, one of the announcers of this year’s Wrestlemania who was also in Austin a few weeks ago to host the SXSW Gaming Awards, got pulled into a sex tape scandal earlier this month, but he’ll still have the mic at Wrestlemania and his career likely won’t take the hit of Paige, the wrestler whose ex-boyfriend allegedly released the tape. We can’t forget that Hulk Hogan’s fragile male ego about a sex tape ultimately took down Gawker. He has been written out of WWE history but because of racial slurs, not the sex tape controversy, even though Chyna’s own sex tape practically derailed her career.

In an arena where it’s hard to separate the drama outside the ring from the drama inside it, we have to pay attention to make sure this women’s revolution in the WWE is actually a revolution and not just a marketing strategy to hook more viewers like me. I still use my critical lens to ask lots of questions about gender, sexuality and race in professional wrestling — the McMahons are, after all, well-known Trump supporters — but that lens also allows me to celebrate small wins.

MORE: How the Drag Queen Cassandro Became a Star of Mexican Wrestling

Right now, that looks like Bayley, a happy-go-lucky 27-year-old millennial dominating the biggest wrestling event of the year.

She’ll be surrounded by super-strong athletic women who are changing our ideas about what women can accomplish in sports entertainment, and a whole bunch of burly men who don’t seem to mind sharing the spotlight.

 

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is making SXSW 100 percent more unsettling

One way to promote a TV show at South by Southwest: opening a pop-up chicken restaurant. Another way: terrifying people to death. Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” went for option No. 2 this weekend in Austin.

Photo by Omar Gallaga/American-Statesman

As Statesman Shots co-hosts Omar Gallaga and Tolly Moseley explained in an episode of the podcast Saturday, they came across stoically marching ladies in red on their way to the Los Pollos Hermanos installation promoting AMC’s “Better Call Saul.” They were not the only people startled by the guerilla marketing for the dystopian drama.

Happy nightmares, SXSW. Feel free to wash the chilling image of Margaret Atwood’s story brought to life out of your mind with some more of that delicious fried chicken from Los Pollos Hermanos.

http://players.brightcove.net/1418563061/default_default/index.html?videoId=5355631356001

[h/t iO9]

You can take a photo with a giant white buffalo at SXSW, if you’re into that sort of thing

If you’re in town for South by Southwest and you’re thinking, “Man, I really wish I had a photo of myself standing next to a 23-foot-tall, 30-foot-long, 6,000-pound white buffalo,” then, well, we’ve got good news for you.

Contributed by Starz

Starz has installed a great white buffalo at the corner of Red River and Cesar Chavez streets as part of its promotion for “American Gods,” the new television show based on Neil Gaiman’s popular novel of the same name. According to Starz, the buffalo installment is homage to the recurring image of a buffalo in the series.

Where’s the party at? Check out our list of the best unofficial events during SXSW 2017

In the Starz activation area, festival attendees can also charge their phones, get some free “American Gods” swag” and check out custom “American Gods” Snapchat stickers.

But hey, that buffalo. Don’t miss it (and how could you miss it, really).

SXSW 2017: Your first look at the real-life ‘Los Pollos Hermanos’ restaurant

We told you last week that AMC is bringing “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” restaurant Los Pollos Hermanos to life this South by Southwest.

The restaurant is set up at 5th Street and Colorado Street. Reshma Kirpalani/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Well, it’s day one of the festival and the restaurant (which looks identical to the TV version) is open to the public.

http://players.brightcove.net/1418563061/96039328-f9f6-4a1d-a598-bcc7dc7f3428_default/index.html?videoId=5355631356001

Judging by the looks of that crowd, it’s pretty popular. And yes, you can get real food there.

SXSW attendees enjoy food at the Los Pollos Hermanos popup. Reshma Kirpalani/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
You’ve got all kinds of dining options at Los Pollos Hermanos. Reshma Kirpalani / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

According to our crew at the scene, the line on Friday afternoon was long but manageable, so you’re chances of getting in and enjoying some of Gus Fring’s wares are pretty high. There’s a catch, though: There isn’t any air conditioning in the restaurant, so be ready to sweat.

LOOK: More pictures from the opening of the pop-up restaurant

The pop-up restaurant won’t be the only appearance related to the AMC shows — Bob Odenkirk, who plays Saul Goodman in both shows, is speaking at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 12 during the festival.

Coming to SXSW: a pop-up ‘beach’ so you can surf in downtown Austin

You know it’s almost South by Southwest when you find out that a TV network is putting a beach in the middle of the city. So on that note, happy SXSW! TNT is installing a big ol’ surf simulator at Congress Avenue and West Fourth Street from March 11-13.

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Rendering of the surf pop-up.

As a promotion for the “adrenaline-charged” series “Animal Kingdom,” which returns to the small screen on May 30, the cable network has announced a “pop-up beach complete with a giant FlowRider surf simulator” meant to bring the thrill of SoCal to downtown Austin. Attendees will be able to test their surf skills with help from some professional surfers (and the stars of the show might catch a wave or two, as well). There will be a beach lounge for those not ready or willing to hang ten. The beach will operate from 11 a.m to 7 p.m. each day.

Also at the pop-up beach: a sneaker bar, a beer garden, a live graffiti wall, a cast meet-and-greet on March 11 and plenty of “Animal Kingdom” swag.

So if you’ve ever felt like Texas beaches are inferior to those of the California coast, keep it to yourself for just one week.

UT alum becomes first black woman to star as ‘The Bachelorette’

Reality TV sensations “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” have run for 15 years and a combined 33 seasons.

capture
Via ABC

On Monday night, ABC announced current “Bachelor” contestant Rachel Lindsay will become the first African-American to publicly seek love as a part of the franchise and star as “The Bachelorette.”

According to ET, Lindsay is a Longhorn. The 31-year-old graduated from UT Austin before going on to Marquette University in Milwaukee to earn her law degree. Lindsay now works as a lawyer in Dallas. But can she find love?

Tune in to watch who Lindsay deems rose-worthy.

Netflix made Halloween-ready, ‘Stranger Things’-inspired recipe videos

Au jus-tice for Barb? Delicious, devilish dishes inspired by Netflix’s “Stranger Things” are only a press-play away.

(Photo via Netflix)
(Photo via Netflix)

The streaming entertainment service has uploaded two videos in a series dubbed “Netflix Kitchen” to YouTube. That sounds charming. Can you find recipes for Orange Is the New Blackberry Pie? Daredeviled Eggs, maybe made with Luke Cage-free eggs? No, the dishes served up so far are equally clever but hideously darker. Kinda like “Stranger Things,” come to think of it.

RELATED: A ‘Stranger Things’ title generator is finally here

Receiving the lion’s share of the online chatter: “French Onion Barb,” a soup inspired by and fashioned in the post-mortem likeness of the horror show’s fan-favorite ancillary character, the bespectacled Barb Holland. A savory, cheesy delight that resembles the corpse of a dead teenager slain by an extra-dimensional demogorgon, the recipe calls back to the scene where telekinetic sweetheart Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown) psychically discovers the goo-covered, slug-infested remains of the show’s resident wet blanket (played by Shannon Purser) in the dark Upside-Down realm.

So, just to be clear, this is French onion soup with a pizza dough version of Barb’s head floating at the top of the bowl. Also, covered in lightly toasted Swiss cheese. Also, you’re supposed to make a little bread replica of Barb trying to escape her death at the bottom of an empty, netherworld swiming pool and affix it to the side of the bowl. Yum!

READ: Members of Survive are doing more than ‘Stranger Things’

Significantly less evocative of cannibalism and flesh decay but equally suitable for your Halloween weekend party: the “Demogorgon Pie,” an ornate pastry inspired by the aforementioned monster terrorizing the world of “Stranger Things.” A flaky fall treat, that pumpkin-cherry-blackberry pie is flanked on all sides by almond-encrusted crust flaps, meant to mimic the demogorgon’s gaping, “Little Shop of Horrors”-esque maw.

The recipes are both on Netflix’s YouTube channel, and I’m eagerly awaiting potential future installments. Can anyone say “Winona Ryder’s A-Z Christmas Cookies”? Seems like a good use of gumdrops.