But first – the current testing process and how it works.
I tell any producer that has a pilot – do not (repeat) DO NOT go to the testing session. Picture the George Clooney torture scene in SYRIANA. That’s what it’s like if your testing goes well.
An audience is recruited. Only people who need four tries to pass their written drivers license test are eligible. They file into a screening room, their knuckles dragging on the ground. The producers are on the other side of a two-way mirror. You scan the group. Tattoos on their eyelids, mouth breathers, no foreheads. You’ve worked for a year on this pilot and these are the people who will decide its fate.
They’re each given remotes. As they watch your show they’re asked to twist a dial to indicate their level of interest and approval. Ten minutes are required to give these complicated instructions.
You see the ongoing graphs. Blue for boys. Pink for girls. A rising blue graph means you have a lot of tit jokes.
After the screening they’re divided into two groups depending on sex. I think they should be divided by species but that’s just me.
Each group is led into a conference room where a moderator questions them. You watch unseen. And now these people who have never in their lives been asked their opinions about anything suddenly become Tom Shayles. Even if they laughed uproariously at your pilot they now have problems with it. I think back to one of my pilots.
The girl with the nose ring hated the lead actress. Why? “She wore that red dress.” The guy with the SHIT HAPPENS T-shirt thought the lead guy was a weak character. Why? “He drove a Passat.” When a woman was asked what her favorite new show was she said COSBY. This was in 2004.
I somehow managed to drive home while in a fetal position.
I wouldn’t mind testing if networks didn’t place such a reliance on it. If it was just used as a tool, another form of input (like studio audiences) that would be fine. Even welcomed. But all too often it’s not. All too often it’s the determining factor.
And even that would be okay except for one thing – they’re usually wrong!!! EMILY’S REASONS WHY NOT (yanked after one airing) tested well. STACKED tested well (duh!). Every cancelled show had high test scores. I dunno. There’s got to be a better way.
Okay, now the best testing story ever.
In 1939 the movie NINOTCHKA (directed by Ersnt Lubitsch, written by Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett) was being tested in a theatre in Long Beach. Following the screening the audience was asked to fill out comment cards. Lubitsch and Wilder were reading the cards in the back of the limo on their way home. Lubitsch read one and burst out laughing. He showed it to Wilder. It said:
“This movie was hilarious. I laughed so hard I almost peed into my girlfriend’s hand”.