But what did the Solvo do? Absolutely NOTHING!
November 21, 2008 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Help me find some scrap of information about this unusual PBS commercial from the 1990s. It involved a magical crimson elixir, junior-varsity basketball, shampoo, and the post hoc fallacy.

In the 1990s, I watched a decent amount of educational TV, most of which aired on PBS. This was before PBS actually started showing commercials, but sometimes they would show a public service announcement as a bumper between shows. Occasionally the PSAs would take the form of fake advertisements for commercial products.

I distinctly remember one particular series of fake ads. The putative product was a purplish-red liquid which I am 95% sure was called "Solvo." It was basically presented as the fluid equivalent of Zombo.com: its effects and properties were only explained in the vaguest possible terms, but You Could Do Anything with it. The commercial would then cut to a kid using Solvo and achieving some goal. At the end, the kid would ask, "But what did the Solvo do?" And the announcer would reply, in a booming voice, "Absolutely nothing!"

The objective, I think, was to teach kids to avoid the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, along with products that capitalized on their ignorance of same. It also could have been some sort of obtuse, roundabout anti-drug propaganda, but that would have been kind of a stretch.

In one installment, a girl carries a small cup of Solvo around in a library to help her find a book. In another, a boy mixes the stuff with his shampoo and washes his hair with it to help him win a basketball game. The aspect of the latter that sticks out in my mind is that the kid leaves the foamy lather in his hair throughout the game. At the time, I found this oddly disquieting.

There may have been others, but I don't remember them. I'm pretty sure I saw these two during the period when both Bill Nye and Wishbone were producing new episodes, which would indicate a date in the 1995-1997 range. They may have only aired on our local PBS affiliate (KERA Dallas-Fort Worth).

After more than a decade of never thinking about this commercial, something triggered the memory. Now I think about it all the time. I can't use shampoo, play basketball or do research in a library without hearing the "Absolutely nothing!" tagline in my head. The worst part is that I can find Absolutely Nothing about these commercials—not even a confirmation of their existence.

So, does anyone know if there's any surviving information about these? Is there a video clip somewhere? Is there, at a minimum, anyone else who remembers them and can confirm that I'm not insane? I need some closure here.
posted by decagon to Media & Arts (6 answers total)
According to this forum page, it was a short from Square1 TV masquerading as a "commercial."
posted by bcwinters at 11:31 AM on November 21, 2008

Wow, that was fast, especially considering that I'd already spent hours searching. How did you find that?

I'm still looking for a video, but I've accepted that it might be lost to history.
posted by decagon at 12:22 PM on November 21, 2008

My first thought was that I couldn't remember my local PBS-affiliate doing fake commercial bumpers as you described...but that I DID recall "commercial"-style short sketches appearing in PBS shows.

That reminded me of a Mathnet sketch about filming a commercial where the director couldn't decide between using fractions or decimals when advertising super-sized french fries.

I googled mathnet solvo and voila, I got lucky!
posted by bcwinters at 1:37 PM on November 21, 2008

decagon - have you seen Square One TV.org? They have a rather detailed show list, and people have/had stuff on VHS. Apparently there was a digitalization and restoration attempt in the past, but I don't know if it panned out. I'd love to find some of this myself!
posted by filthy light thief at 1:41 PM on November 21, 2008

Squareonetv.org doesn't seem to contain any mention of the Solvo commercials, but I've got a feeling it may have information about similar effluvia filed away in the recesses of my mind. Thanks.
posted by decagon at 2:30 PM on November 21, 2008

you can also check the wayback machine. That's how I once recovered the Mentos "Quantum Physics" commercial (which is now simply here.
posted by gensubuser at 9:08 AM on November 22, 2008

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