Wednesday, October 08, 2008

How to win the presidential debate

CNN’s live coverage of Tuesday’s presidential debate featured a graph at the bottom of the screen showing the continuous reaction of focus group respondents. The candidates would speak and two lines (one for men and the other women) would inch up or down depending on whether these dial twirling lab rats liked or didn’t like what was being said (assuming they understood what was being said, not an automatic assumption).

Obama and McCain were being subjected to the same scrutiny given to the pilot of TIL DEATH.

As the creator and producer of a number of TV pilots I am all-too familiar with this highly accurate method of determining something’s worth. I have been on the other side of the one-way glass while forty nimrods who looked like they just fell out of a Coen Brothers movie twisted their little spinners while judging my creative baby. On the monitor above my head was the show with the running graphs. That joke suffered a 3% dip and women appreciated that line 7.3% more than men. Art reduced to a spreadsheet.

Producers learn to manipulate the system of course and construct their pilots specifically to win focus groups’ favor. Writing a sharper joke is not nearly as important as getting that waitress to wear a Wonder Bra.

So for the next and last debate I offer the candidates a couple of suggestions for improving your test scores.

Cartwheels are huge. Focus groups love ‘em! You could be proposing a 50% tax hike and if it’s in the midst of a nifty acrobatic move your graph will shoot through the roof. Governor Palin, in a dress, especially missed a bet here.

Crossing your eyes is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. Saying the word “hooters” will elevate any statement on Iran’s disturbing threat to world peace.

Take a moment in laying out your solution to the Social Security crisis to introduce the audience to your new puppy.

Get choked up. Doesn’t matter of over what. But personal triumph over adversity tends to score higher than Urkel not being honored by the Kennedy Center. And if you don’t have a personal triumph just lift something from PROFILES IN COURAGE. It’s been almost fifty years. No one remembers that book. Look for at least one “Awwwwwwwww” moment.

Shoes matter. The road to the White House goes through Leffot in Manhattan.

Try singing one of your answers. Bad news always goes down easier when delivered by a karaoke Sinatra.

Your opponent says something you take great issue with? Just do a spit-take. You think anyone is going to listen to a “rebuttal”?

Finally and most important, in your closing remarks, make sure you say that this great nation was built by good strong Americans like you; concerned hard-working people who love this country and rate things.

Thank me at the Inaugural.


Unknown said...

I used your comments on Pilot screenings the last couple of weeks on german blogs discussing Sarah Palin.

Her hand-waving, winking and using words like "Maverick" and "Wasilla main-street" over and over is _exactly_ what made her "win" the debate there.

They knew exactly whom they could win over with this kind of behavior. And they only needed to look good this one time. After that they have four years where they can do whatever they want - including her shooting a friend in the face without any consequences. Appearance matters, not the topics, not the facts, not the hard truth about housing, education and health.

What matters is coming across as the MILF the average Joe Sixpack wants.

God I want to kill myself. There are 6 billion people on this earth and I can'decide whether I should be more afraid of Vladimir Putin in stalinist Russia, Kim Jong Il in Communist North Korea, or Caribou-Barbie.

Maybe I can reast easy because two of those three have a tanning bed in their offices.

I mean who could expect that there was a possibility for the american political system to actually top Dubjah?

Lewis Black in 2003 said that at the current rate of decline in quality of the candidate the us would vote for plants in 2012.

Go ficus.

Anonymous said...

they need to have the turning knob thing everywhere... at the macdonalds counters, next to ur phone for telemarketers and in restaurants on the table so u can score each bite of a meal... and on the chairs in producers and studio execs office so u can rate meetings as they are going...

so stupid anyway... the amount of shows that go bad in those things only to be popular...

Anonymous said...

Is there anything stupider than focus group testing? (Besides Sarah Palin that is.) Our entertainment industry, advertising industry and countless others test the hell out of everything, yet we still get shit out the other end. Testing is just a way for managers to cover their asses -- that way they can say, "It's not our fault the product sucks. It tested great."

Tom Quigley said...

The main conclusion I came to after watching Tuesday evening's proceedings was that if we could find a way to harness all the hot air the two of them were blowing at each other all night long, we could solve the energy crisis tomorrow...

Mary Stella said...

Saying the word “hooters” will elevate any statement on Iran’s disturbing threat to world peace.

Would making reference to Iraq seeing an increase in Hummers also score big?

Anthony said...

I know this is all in the context of satire, but reading your post, I realized that I'd probably vote for anyone, ideology be damned, who actually WOULD do a spit take during a debate.

Jon Davis said...

I once thought those screening controls should be hooked up to electric shockers on the candidates, but hey, it would only work once so I let the idea go.
(After all, once it's seen it would be like an AOL online poll. Everyone would go to just freep the damn thing and the poor candidates would both end up electrocuted as the audience fought each other and not the views of a given candidate.)

Anonymous said...

There are few things in life that cannot be made better with a well-executed spit take.

VP81955 said...

What matters is coming across as the MILF the average Joe Sixpack wants.

So forget what Sarah Palin actually says -- if the GOP loses in a landslide, it's because Sarah Palin should've worn shinier pantyhose.

Got it.

Tom Quigley said...

So forget what Sarah Palin actually says -- if the GOP loses in a landslide, it's because Sarah Palin should've worn shinier pantyhose.

I don't know about her winning last week's debate, but I was awfully afraid that if she had been scheduled to address the United Nations a couple of weeks ago, it might have gone something like:

"My fellow Earthlings... I must say that it's an honor today to be here visiting this noble institution known as the Unn... And to be addressing the General Assembly... I can remember that the last time I addressed a general assembly this large was at a pep rally my senior year at Wasilla Central High, home of the Warriors... We were going up against our arch-rivals the next day, the Midvalley Mukaluks, in the annual seal-gutting tournament... And I'm happy to say that that year, we blubbered them into the ground!....

"But I'm not here just to talk about things I'm proud of... I'm here to tell you all that we've got real problems today... That in a world full of war, economic woes, energy shortages and tundras overrun by large antlered wildlife, we all need to come together and realize that we all co-inhabit the same planet... And though I'm not necessarily in favor of co-inhabitation -- after all, look what it did to my daughter -- I think it's time we decided to put aside our differences and see our world as a single resource to be cherished and loved by diverse people everywhere –- all those Joe Six-Packs and hockey moms in China and Africa and Hawaii and Kama Sutra and countries like that -- no matter what their race, creed, religion, political system, or -- with the possible exception of Rosie O’Donnell -- their sexual orientation... And so, my fellow citizens of the world, in a show of solidarity for this great planet, let us all now join hands, and sing 'America The Beautiful'...."

Mary Stella said...

Say what you will, liberal tax-mad scum, Sarah Palin in a low cut dress and Wonder Bra could change the body politic in ways you can't imagine.

But not as much as John McCain doing the same. *g*

Buttermilk Sky said...

Spit-takes are a little too arcane for Joe Sixpack. How about McCain takes a football to the nuts? That's comedy gold! And he's already demonstrated that he'll do absolutely anything to be president.