'Pitchmen' Season 2: Anthony 'Sully' Sullivan goes it alone without Billy Mays
The show was an immediate success, but the happiness turned to grief when Mays died suddenly on June 28, 2009, at the age of 50, less than a week after appearing with Sullivan on "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien."
This threw the future of the show into question. It's taken a while to, first, decide if there should be a show without Mays; second, decide what shape that show should take; and third, actually produce the episodes.
But on Thursday, Aug. 19, Discovery premieres the 10-episode second season of "Pitchmen," focusing on Sullivan, with appearances by Mays' son, Billy Mays III, who works with Sullivan off-camera.
"Young Billy Mays is doing great," says Sullivan, calling in today (Aug. 17) from Florida. "It was his birthday last week. We surprised him. He was actually on a shoot with me for 16 hours in the hot Florida sun. We were working on a Trojan campaign. He's doing great.
"We had a little birthday gathering on Sunday. He's had a tough year. He lost his father. They were just really getting to know each other and spending time together. I'm really proud of him as just a friend, and also as someone who's gone through the loss he's gone through, how and where he found the strength.
"For a young man of his age, he's incredibly wise. He reminds me of his dad. I care about him. I just got off the phone with him two hours ago."
It's also been challenging for the British-born Sullivan, who was friends and partners with Mays for two decades.
"The last time I ever saw Billy Mays Jr. is when we did 'The Tonight Show' together," Sullivan says. "Billy was as close to me as anyone's ever been. We were on 'The Tonight Show' -- Elvis Costello to the left, and Lisa Kudrow to the right, and Conan O'Brien's there, and I was thinking to myself, 'Holy crap. We made it. We're on "The Tonight Show," me and Billy.'
"From the hardscrabble days of pitching ... I just felt this overwhelming connection with everyone just cheering us on, and I felt especially for Billy. He worked so hard. ... I was so looking forward to working with Billy again on season two, and I felt like we had just hit our stride."
When someone dies unexpectedly and relatively young, it can have a profound effect on those left behind.
"It did force a lot of people to look at their lives," says Sullivan, "look at their relationships, and also at the legacy you leave behind. What are you going to do next? What are you going to do now? That's one of the questions that hit me especially hard, and even little Billy. We looked at each other, like, 'What do we do now?'
"There's no roadmap. Coming into season two was a decision that took some time to make, but I'm really glad we made it. Billy used to say, 'Life's a pitch, and then you buy.' .. Billy would have been 100 percent proud of what we've done."
In season two of "Pitchmen," Sullivan holds "pitch-a-thons" around the country, giving local inventors a chance to catch his eye with their creations.
Says Sullivan, "The inventors and the people behind the products have really stepped into the limelight and filled that void."
In such a challenging economic climate for entrepreneurs and small businesses, infomercial producers like Sullivan offer a chance to get a product in front of a wide audience.
"The American Dream is alive and kicking," Sullivan says. "The small business and entrepreneur are what can really drive this economy, whether it's setting up a coffeeshop, whether it's inventing a better way to seal a bag, or a better way to put out a fire, or a better way to tie your shoelaces.
"[I'd be thrilled] if this year's season can inspire one person to say, 'I don't like my job. I've got a crappy job. I don't like my boss. I want to get in there and invent something. "Pitchmen" inspired me to do it, and I'm going to see if what Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan are doing is the right thing.'
"Sometimes you forget that you don't always want to work for the man, and there's nothing wrong with getting out there and inventing stuff."
Asked what's changed since filming started for season one of "Pitchmen," Sullivan says, "Ten bucks is the new 20 bucks. People want to save money. Billy used to say, 'I want to be Billy "I Want to Save You Money" Mays.' It was like he had a crystal ball.
"People want to save. They want a deal. They want to get value for money. They want something that works."
Oh, and regarding that Trojan ad, Sullivan says, "Right now, I'm editing a Trojan commercial. I'm not in the commercial, but I'm editing it. It's a very tasteful new launch from Trojan."
Asked if anyone will be demonstrating how to use Trojan's products, Sullivan says, "I can't demonstrate. It would never get clearance. I shouldn't even be discussing it, but I go so far as to give you the name Trojan."
Sullivan says you can watch for that ad in the next few weeks.
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Photo credit: Discovery