Saturday, December 13, 2008

Television Preview: Stung, Scammed and Out of Control

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward reading.


Oh, how to tell this in sentences and not paragraphs.
Ahem: A friend got an invitation in the mail to attend previews of two tv pilots and give his opinion. He took us along. Five hundred people showed up to watch the two previews on a few monitors at a motel in the burbs.

First we filled out a questionnaire, supposedly to determine who would win prizes as thanks for our participation. It asked our address, telephone, etc. so the prize could be delivered to the lucky winners. We were given lots of choices of what prizes to deliver. i.e. products we might like: things like paper towels, candy, aspirin. It seemed like it would all amount to a bag of groceries filled with the most prosaic products imagineable.

I felt queasy about the whole thing by this time and gave a fictitious name and address, figuring I didn't need a bag of groceries badly enough to list my true address, email and phone number.
The pilots were surprisingly bad. So bad that I assumed they were bogus. The sitcom didn't last 20 minutes even with commercials. Both bogus pilots had familiar faces though. Actors need work too.

And then the questioning began. A few questions about our thoughts on the pilots and a million questions on things like our blood pressure, age, chloresterol count--very personal things. It took an hour to fill it out the form. I didn't fill it out and I noticed that although this second form purported to be anonymous, a four digit number on the back of that second form matched the number on the back of the first one we'd filled out for prizes.

Clearly this was all about getting information for marketers. No one seemed dubious except me so I kept my mouth shut with some elbowing from my husband who could see I was ready to rise and denounce this charade. And he didn't want to hurt the feelings of the friend who brought us.
Okay, maybe the audience didn't mind disclosing intimate details. I was quiet until I left 2 1.2 hours later when I told off some underling who may not have even known what it was about.

Why was no one else suspicious? I'm not suspicious or clever but when you answer four questions about the supposed pilot and 72 about yourself, something is off. Okay, I am suspicious. That was a lie. But I'm not clever.

The moral is-don't go to preview pilots sponsored by a firm called Television Previews.

What I wonder is did the actors hired to make these bogus pilots know what they were doing?

When I asked my son if he would alert the bunko squad in his county (he's a prosecutor), he looked at me in wonder. No more bunco squads then?


Travis Erwin said...

What a crazy way to gather info.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think the people were so flattered to be previewing a pilot and giving their opinion-it softened them up to answer questions they would never normally answer. The woman kept telling them that their opinion of products was valuable too. Pity their mail carrier when the ads start arriving

John McFetridge said...

My wife loves to take part in focus groups - and they pay her $75.00.

But still, it's hard for them to get participants and they always use the line, "Make your opinion count," or something like that.

The bogus pilot does seem a roundabout way to gather info for marketers, but as you say, people were flattered to take part and probably gave far more of their time (and personal info) than they would have otherwise.

What I find amazing is that companies still pay for marketing companies to tell them the most obvious things. I can't see the economy as too badly off when this kind of thing is still going on.

Lisa said...

Aha! I got an invitation to preview some TV pilots a couple of weeks ago. I couldn't figure out what the angle was, but I knew there had to be one. They sent it to the wrong people, of course. We can hardly stand most of the TV shows that make it beyond the pilot stage, so going downtown to look at pilots that hadn't aired yet didn't have much appeal :) Thanks for filling us in on what the scam really is about.

Barbara Martin said...

Patti you were smart not to give out personal information. It may not be going only to marketers, but somewhere more nefarious.

Cormac Brown said...

Damn, you have all kinds of possilibities for a story here. I'll bet the company used actual discarded pilots and neither the real producers nor the actors even have an idea that this going on.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The guy with us thought they were busted pilots, but they were so bad--unless they took pieces out of them to make them shorter. Kim Raver was in the more dramatic one. Rue McClanahan in the other, speaking with a frightening German accent.
The audience actually voted with their hand that they would like to see that one on TV, despite the incredibly familiar plot.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't know, considering the horrible crap I've seen on TV recently those might have been real pilots.

Cormac Brown said...

I loved Kim Raver in the few seasons I saw of "Third Watch."

Rue McClanahan with a German accent???

First, with Chloris Leachman still around and thriving, why?

Second, this sounds like Ashton brought back "Punk'd."

Third, wha? Did she put all of her "Golden Girls" residuals into Enron stock?