Testing Hell

The network just tested a friend of mine’s pilot in front of an audience. He writes to me that it didn’t go well. 

Death and devastation.  Surely one of the worst focus group tests ever.  They hated everything about it. 

We’ve all been there. I remember observing a focus group discussion after the audience screened a couple of DIAGNOSIS MURDER episodes. Several of the audience members said they didn’t find the guy playing "Steve Sloan" believable at all as Dick Van Dyke’s son. Fair enough. Except the guy who played Steve was Barry Van Dyke.

During testing, the audience members hold a dial, and they twist it one way or another throughout the show to indicate whether they like what they are seeing or not. In the backroom, we see a read-out of these dial reactions that reads like an EKG. You can literally see your show dying… or getting a sudden jolt of life. It allows you to get instant feedback.

We tested some episodes of MARTIAL LAW and, of course, the scores went way up whenever there was an action sequence. That was no surprise. What was a surprise was that the scores went up even higher when Kelly Hu walked into a room. She didn’t even have to say anything.

So… what did we learn? We could have scrapped every single one of those expensive action sequences and simply asked Kelly Hu to stand in front of the camera for five minutes. Naturally, the network immediately asked us to get her in front of the camera as often as possible… which infuriated our star Sammo Hung, who already felt threatened by her. But that’s another story…

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