He's unstoppable, indestructible, lifetime-guaranteed. The Little engine that could. He saw Jane Fonda's workout videos and decided he could do better. So in 1984, at age 27, he financed $5,500 worth of TV airtime by creating a company that cleaned health spas. He saw cubic zirconia selling on HSN and decided he could do better. So he went to the son of HSN's owner and promised to help him promote his gym in return for 15 minutes with his dad. He talked the dad into five minutes of airtime and sold 4,000 videos in four minutes. HSN invited him to be an on-camera cohost, and he "blew the house lines up," selling 10,000 videos in 20 minutes. His smile, his shape, and his rat-a-tat patter screamed energy and conviction.
So what's his secret? "I like making mistakes," Tony Little says. What mistakes has he made? He pauses. "I haven't made any. I'm pretty good." But surely one of his many products has bombed? "I came up with a digital coach. Give your weight and the calories you want to lose and it comes up with a workout and a grocery list." And? "It didn't work properly," he says. "But it sold."
Tony hops into his '65 silver Corvette to drive around the corner to the 64-acre HSN HQ. "Long-ass light," he says, snapping at the red turn arrow. He parks in the GUEST HOST spot and bursts through the doors, marching past rows and rows of mostly female phone workers in headsets. Tony rushes into makeup while an equally fast-talking HSN rep named Lisa gives a tour. There's Emeril going into makeup. There's a Suzanne Somers "megaset." There's a pile of John Edward books. There's a control room. There's the kitchen where Emeril's bread is baking. And there's William Lynch, executive VP of marketing, with Polident-perfect teeth. "Tony's got a great story, he's a great storyteller, and he's got a great product," Lynch says. "Tony eats his own dog food."
Lynn Murphy has been cohosting with Tony for years. She's got blond hair and wears thick mascara and black high-heel boots. "He's so loyal," she says. "So trusted. Did you know he got hit by a school bus?" What about mistakes? "Pppshhh," she says, nodding. "Before today's show, he said, 'I'm gonna flip you out!' And he did a complete head-dive into a pillow!"
Back in the dressing room, Tony's wild hair is teased out and he puts on a lime-green shirt and matching shoes. "I want to be seen," he says. He sits on a white leather couch and sighs. "I'm dead tired." (Not true.) "I hate selling." (Not true.) "I like making mistakes." (Not true.) "My four infomercials sold more than George Clooney's top four movies." (True!) When he dashes off to the set, Lisa, the HSN rep, says, "Anything he says is not a statement of ours."