The Necessity of 'Invention' Shows
By Ian Mount

(FORTUNE Small Business) – Since we wrote about USA network's inventor reality show Made in the U.S.A. last February, a football shoulder pad with a built-in canteen won the top prize, fending off competitors such as women's shoes with interchangeable heels. Is the public really clamoring for more? Apparently so: Two more invention contests are on the way. That was great news for Mary Wheeler, who recently lined up with around 600 other hopefuls to audition for ABC's American Inventor to pitch her gourmet-flavored lipstick (think basil or smoky bacon). The show is executive produced by Simon Cowell of American Idol fame. Judges will winnow hopefuls down to nine, who get $50,000 to develop their ideas; viewers will vote on which contestant gets $1 million and a distribution deal with ABC. Meanwhile, Ric Johnson, an independent TV producer--and inventor of a light-up lollipop--is filming So What's the Big Idea? (At presstime he was searching for a network.) Wheeler, for her part, retains a level head. "I hope something more useful to humanity than gourmet lipstick comes out of this show," says the 39-year-old. "But I think I'd be good TV for a little while."