Many of the new gadgets we know and love come to us from large international companies— Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Apple, to name a few. But America is all about the entrepreneurial spirit of its citizens. So many innovative, useful, and just plain nifty gadgets come from mom-and-pop garage inventors. There are legions of teachers, truck drivers, plumbers, lawyers, nurses, and others who work full-time at their jobs only to become inventors and entrepreneurs in their spare time. These folks produce products that are often sold right from the inventor’s website. Since they’re often single SKU, these products are difficult to get into Target, Walmart, or other big-box stores. And then there’s the challenge of telling the world about the gadget. Buying TV time or even social media can add up and traveling to CES or other technology shows is time-consuming and tough in the pandemic era. Meanwhile, landing an appearance on Shark Tank is akin to winning the lottery. (It may be a game-changer when it happens, but you certainly can’t count on it.)
Enter Steve Greenberg, a champion for mom-and-pop inventors for years. In 2008, he wrote the book Gadget Nation, which showcases the gizmos and doodads of 100-plus first-time inventors. For more than a decade, Greenberg’s has demoed home-grown gadget inventions on NBC’s Today show and on local TV stations around the country. He also hosted a Food Network reality show called Invention Hunters, which had him searching the USA for the next hot kitchen gadget. He’s even been on the Board of the United Inventors Association.
“I love inventors. My dad was an inventor and I want to do what I can to help inventors showcase their new gadgets,” says Greenberg. “It’s frustrating because I see so many more gadgets than I have TV segments. I really needed another venue to share even more new products.” Greenberg wanted to create another platform to showcase new gadgets by mom-and-pop garage inventors, so during the pandemic lockdown he launched a Zoom-formatted, gadget-themed game show on YouTube. It’s called What the Heck Is That? “It’s sort of a Shark Tank meets What’s My Line? or maybe I’ve Got A Secret,” he says.
During each episode, panelists try to guess the identity of a mystery gadget. Viewers play along. If you know your gadgets or have a high “Gadget IQ,” you’ll guess the gadget before the panelists do. So far, guest have included everyone from comedian Judy Gold and drag performer Candy Samples to YouTube superstar Matty Benedetto (Unnecessary Inventions) and consumer electronics PR guru Lois Whitman Hess. For a quick look, check out this funny mini-episode with Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on a recent episode of Today.
“The show is very simple— and lots of fun,” says Greenberg. “I hope we can grow the game show to be a much bigger show. To make that happen, I need more viewers, more free subscribers, and ultimately I need a sponsor. I’ve supported inventors and the gadget-loving community for years. I’m hoping now those same people will support me by watching and subscribing to the YouTube channel.”
The show is fun to watch. The panelists and guest panelists are hysterical, the gadgets are tough to guess, and they are all real. “Each mystery gadget featured on the show is available for purchase; none are prototypes,” says Greenberg. “I know my gadgets and I know I’ve been stumped many times.”
Think you can guess the mystery gadgets? Check out previous and new episodes of What the Heck Is That? on the show’s web page at GadgetGameShow.com or search for “What the Heck Is That?” on YouTube.
Tom is the Editor in Chief of Dealerscope.