Thursday, February 02, 2006

The best testing story EVER

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, mouth breathers, no foreheads. You’ve worked for a year on this pilot and these are the people who will decide its fate. (It’s the Presidential election all over again.)

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 my recent pilot.

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 Lutitsch, 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”.


Anonymous said...

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.

I know nothing. But EVEN I know there is no better way, as long as it is the TV "Business" with humorless accountants running things, and no one wanting to "take chances".

The breakthrough shows that I know of, almost every one, was some show that some executive took a chance on because they LIKED it themselves and knew it was different and good.

People don't know what the hell they want. If you go by sales, (but skew it by only offering mediocre entertainment) you get misled. I think most people, if you offer them something they don't even KNOW they like, or have to get used to liking, they end up evolving.

TV, movies, music, fast food, it's all the lowest common demoninator.
Until they get the idea that they prefer McDonalds over a gourmet meal that tastes fantastic.

Anonymous said...

I agree that, if used only as a tool, it would seem like the testing process could have some value, not only for the execs, but even for the writer/producers who are getting (presumably) honest and unbiased feedback for the first time.

But I never understood the bit with the friggin' nob/dial. That has got to be the most useless, pointless, unscientific and meaningless way to judge a viewing experience ever conceived.

Do we really break down our enjoyment of TV or film or any medium into second-by-second increments? Do the viewers press the dial down during the set-up of a joke, only to spike it back up to the top once a punchline has been delivered?

Do those laborious exterior establishing shots cause the scores to bottom out, while simply the appearance of Pamela Anderson's bazooms will cause it to skyrocket? What is the point?

Having a lengthy chat with the folks after the screening or filling out comment cards seems useful. But that dial has got to go!

Shawn Bowers said...

This goes back to my whole theory about how it's impossible to trust the tastes of a general public. Look at what happens with the Peoples' Choice Awards! The nominees are simply stars people remember with little to no logic mixed in there...for instance, Sandra Bullock won for Miss Congeniality 2 or something. I don't know...and then it's humiliating because you can tell that everyone there is just sort of humoring the "public" and that even they know it's bullshit. Sorry. That's my rant. I have lots of anger towards those "awards."

But yeah...there has to be a better way. There always is. Maybe we can get one of those chess-playing logic computers to do a brainstorm session and come up with something. Cause...y'know...computers can do anything.