The Focus Group

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The Focus Group

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

A few months ago, I spent some time behind a one-way mirror, watching the test screening of a new television show. Full disclosure: I had really nothing to do with the show; I didn't write or produce it; I was just there to show some moral support for a friend of mine who did write and produce it. So when I tell you that it was a good show -- a funny, fresh, interesting half-hour comedy (and how many of those are there?) you know I'm telling the truth. I mean, I'm a writer. The last thing I'd ever do is compliment another writer's work, even if he is a good friend of mine. Maybe especially if he's a good friend of mine. But this show was good enough that I put aside my professional competitive jealousy and lack of genuine warmth and despicable secret loathing of every other writer in the world and told my friend the truth. &quotThis; is a great show, man," I said.

And then the test screening began. Let me, if I can, paint a word picture of the spectacular chaos of a test screening. Here goes:

Scene: Interior, A market research testing facility in Burbank, California, Friday, 4:30pm. &quotOkay;, could everyone take their seats, please?"
&quotHow; do these paddles work, dude?"
&quotOkay;, those are dials, and please take your seat, sir."
&quotI; was told there would be pizza."
&quotOkay;, pizza will be served -- can we all sit down, please? -- pizza will be served at the conclusion of the test screening."
&quotAre; these the only seats?"
&quotCan; we all take a seat, please? And yes, ma'am, all the seats are the same. If you feel that you need a-.more ample-size seat, perhaps we can find something-"
&quotNo;, I can squeeze in."
&quotHow; do these paddle things go?"
&quotOkay;, those are dials and-"
&quotDo; the paddles, like, stick on to our chests or whatever for-"
&quotOkay;, please, everyone, take a seat. No, the dials -- they're dials, not paddles -- are there for you to hold during the screening."
&quotI; don't have no paddles."
&quotI; got two paddles."
&quotOkay;, sir, please hand one of your dials -- they're dials, not paddles -- to the gentlemen sitting next to you."
&quotMine;'s plugged in. Are the paddles supposed to be plugged in?"
&quotYes;, the dials -- they're dials, not paddles -- are each connected to a computer, which will record your reaction to the show we're about the screen."
&quotMine; don't click or nothing."
&quotI; was told they would be pizza."
&quotMine; don't work either."
&quotMy; paddles is busted, dude."
&quotOkay;, the dials -- they're dials, not paddles -- don't click or anything. You just twist the knob to the right when you're enjoying the program, and then, if you find you're not enjoying it or are bored, just turn the knob back to the left."
&quotI; got a question."
&quotMy; paddle thingy isn't clicking."
&quotOkay;, the dials -- they're dials, not paddles -- don't click. They turn. To the right indicates that you're enjoying the screening. To the left indicates that you aren't. Your responses are sent to the computer through the wire attached to the handset, and the producers of the program can get a sense of how much you as an audience have enjoyed their program. Okay? Are we ready to go?"
&quotI;'m concerned about my privacy."
&quotI;'m concerned about the pizza."
&quotOkay;, pizza will be served after the screening. And your privacy is protected every step of the way, ma'am. No one in the testing facility has your name or address. If you still feel concerned about privacy, you may excuse yourself from this screening."
&quotDo; I still get the pizza?"
&quotNo;, ma'am."
&quotI;'ll stay."
&quotOkay;, I think we're ready to begin the screening. Please, everyone, turn your dials to the center to begin. Make sure the red lines on the dial match the red line on the handset. Okay? Is everyone ready?"
&quotMy; paddles don't click."
&quotCan; we move the dial a little bit to the right if we're enjoying this part of the screening, too? I mean, if we're enjoying you?"
&quotOkay;, the dials don't click -- they're paddles, not dials -- they turn. And we'd like everyone to center their dials so the red lines match up, okay? Okay, ready? Ready? Let's begin."

The show, in the end, didn't get on. Which is just as well, because while it's easy to be genuinely happy for a friend who makes a great pilot, it's impossible to feel the same way about a friend who has a hit TV show.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll go below our hard floor.

For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long