Out of Focus


Can you have them shake hands instead?

Since its inception, making television has been like reading tea leaves. You knew there was an audience out there, but you didn’t really know what they wanted. So you guessed, or dealt with the psuedo science of ‘ratings’.

As a result, making television programs can be a long, arduous, and ultimately frustrating process.

Almost a year ago, we pitched a concept to a network. They liked it the pitch. They told us to come back with a treatment. We wrote the treatment. They liked the treatment, they told us to come back with a budget. We made a budget. They didn’t like the budget. We negotiated. We reached an agreement. We needed a host. We cast. We shot tests. We consulted with the network. They didn’t like our choice. We chose someone they liked. We signed a contract. Now the network wanted us to shoot a 10-minute ‘taster’ to see what the show would look like. We drafted a treatment. They didn’t like it. We redrafted and gave them what they wanted. We made a budget, they didn’t like it. We negotiated. We reached a price. We shot the taster. We cut it. We showed it to them. They gave their notes. We recut it. They accepted it. They showed it around. They told us they wanted to go to a one-hour pilot. We did a treatment. Budget. you get the idea. Shot it, finally. Cut. Comment. Recut. Reshoot. Recut. Finally they accepted it. They aired it.

At 5:30 on a Tuesday.

With no promotion at all.

Then we waited.


What happened? We said.

“Didn’t rate,” they responded.

Now there is a surprise.


All this work. A year. All this money and effort. One hour and it is gone.

We were in Vegas this week and while walking through the massive MGM Grand, we passed the ‘TV Show’ room.

This is where we (they) focus group shows. I have particiapted in a number of these, watching my work ‘focus grouped’ by folks who came to Vegas and had nothing else to do at 3PM, so they got coralled into watching one of our shows and giving their opinions.

The network executives assiudously take notes on the comments of these ‘average’ Americans.

If they had focus groups in Renaissance Italy, you can imagine what the response to Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel would have been:

“We think that instead of pointing the fingers at each other, God and Adam should shake hands. That works better for us”.

“We think that God should be thinner.”

“Why doesn’t Adam have any pants on? This is offensive!”

The funny thing is that the ‘science’ of ratings and focus groups has now been made redundant by the web.

Put your stuff up on the web. The viewers will tell you exactly what they want to see. They can even submit comments. The web aggregates by popularity.

You don’t need focus groups.

You don’t need ratings.

The web provides broadcasters with a 100%, 24-hour a day focus group… for free.

You don’t have to agonize over the pilots or the tasters.

Just let anyone with an idea post 3 minutes of what their show would look like.

The miracle of the web and the free market will take care of the rest.

If there was a contract for production waiting on the other side, lots of creative folks would join in.

And the best part is, you don’t even have to go to Vegas.


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