Saturday, March 7, 2009

TV preview bait and switch

I have just experienced Television Preview first hand. It is as bad, or worse than the bloggers suggest. Their classic bait and switch event should go down in the annals of corporate malfeasance.

From their invitation letter: “You have been selected to participate in a survey whose findings will directly influence what you see on television in the future.” Who could resist the chance to “evaluate not-yet released television material that is being considered for nationwide broadcast.” Guess what? The only “material” being considered that night was product satisfaction. Hundreds and hundreds of products.

Television Preview is not about TV shows. It is entirely, 100% about PRODUCTS. Twice we scanned 20 pages of consumer products and picked our favorites. They say they will give away six crates of stuff (worth $250.00!), to be delivered later.

Page after page of survey questions probed our favorite breakfast cereal, adhesive bandage, deodorant, toilet tissue, paper towel, ink pen, pickle, oatmeal, … and a curious new personal hygiene product called the “wet wipe.” It went on forever.

The TV pilot episodes we thought we were reviewing included commercials, and they showed a spot for Hyundai’s new “Assurance” program (recession-timed, Hyundai will buy your car back if you get laid off). We commented on our impressions of the commercial and the product. The two best commercials of the night were the got milk?/Pillsbury Russian family commercial, and the Holiday Inn Express “rapper.” LOL! (But they didn’t even ask about those commercials.)

About the previews we came to see, they were both produced in 1997, and were doomed to failure. “Soul Mates” starring Kim Raver (the awesome Audrey Raines of “24-Day 6”) was a reincarnation love/crime story that played like a bad mini-series too bad even for the Lifetime channel. There’s no evidence it ever aired.

Also on the double bill, a sitcom called “Dads” starring Rue McClanahan and C. Thomas Howell (also in “24-Day 5”). Wisecracking child actors, goofy, inept dads, a lust interest, plus the ever-present laugh track. I wrote on my survey “Thumbs up, I guess” in hopes of more dad-positive TV. This show never aired.

On one hand, I wish I had done more research before blowing the evening for my wife and 20-something son. On the other hand, I’m glad I didn’t know any better and walked in like a na├»ve member of the consuming public. Yup, that’s me!

I wanted to make it a family event and take my 15-year old, but the cutoff age was 16 so we left him at home with a new Spongebob video. Lucky fellow! As my grousing over three wasted hours got worse, he said, “It’s not that bad. At least you didn’t lose any money. It’s like watching two hours of bad YouTube videos and the button doesn’t work.”

Kansas City’s entertainment weekly Pitch caught on five years ago, summing up the experience: “Most attendees have figured out by now that there's a catch, and if this is it, they can live with it.”

A few other endorsements:
“Misleading, stupid” – OneEyedMan, June 25, 2007

“Awful! … so sad.” – swaite, Nov. 22, 2008

“I hope they go out of business.” – Jeffrey, Dec. 5, 2008

Here are our choices: shut down this operation by exposing their lies (what are the chances?), or persuade them to convert into becoming a legitimate research firm.

Invest two hours of your own to attend Television Preview and skew the stats. Rave over the pilots and let’s resurrect them from the obscurity of focus group hell. There is a movement to get clips of these pilots on to YouTube.

I have little hope in the latter option. A short open later to the “director” follows.

Dear G.B. Edwards (director of Television Preview):

Thank you for the invitation to your TV show screening. I was so honored, and so foolish. From the invitation letter: “… if the material you evaluate is later telecast, you can rightly conclude that your opinion was considered before that decision was made.” That was an outright lie and the worst kind of bait and switch!

I urge you to stop the deception. Instead, go whole hog toward commercials. Show the latest, the best, the worst, the funniest. Preview upcoming campaigns. Hire a local comedian to host the show. A Vaudeville act or Catskillian type comic would surely entertain the mostly senior crowd. Give away goodie bags to the entire audience on the way out. Promote American products!

You can convert your endless, dreadful night of opinion-mining into something that approaches fun. Such an event would still interest people willing to share their opinions.

A sucker is born every minute, so it’s doubtful you will convert at my suggestion. I pray you repent for your sins.

1 comment:

Greg said...

Great (and funny!) post, Steve. See? People DO read your stuff! Oh. Wait. Phone. This may be the job offer I've been praying for. Oh. Nope. It was "Jane." They will have a truck in my area next Tuesday.