The science behind television pilots -- market research
The journey to get a television show from concept to eventual broadcast is a harrowing one. You have an idea, you prepare a spec summary for the network; they review the proposal and ask for a script. You (with help from others, most likely) prepare a script to send back to the network; they review the script and ask for a filmed pilot. You blow a big was of cash to create that pilot. Through a miracle of God the show gets picked up by the network.
At this point you're probably thinking Emmy and a juicy syndication package. Everything is going your way. Well, actually, no. You see, there's one more stop on the road to getting your show onto the big picture box. One stop that producers dread, but need to make in order to ensure some sort of chance to have their show stay on the air longer than two weeks. It's the small theater with people off of the street; pencils in their hands, a survey sheet nearby. I am talking about the neighborhood market research panel.
In this case, ASI Entertainment, Hollywood's oldest and most frequently-used audience testing location. Established back in 1966, ASI gages the reaction of regular folks for any number of television pilots that make it to the precipice of network pickup. From those reactions producers of those pilots make determinations on whether or not anything should be changed or if it is good to go for broadcast.
Gloria Goodale of the Christian Science Monitor has written a very interesting article on ASI Entertainment, and the science it uses to determine the worth of a television pilot. Taking part in a market research panel of her own, Goodale explains what the audience members see (on normal televisions no less, since not everyone owns a flat-panel HDTV) and what they do in order to tell producers if their show is a hit or a big pile of poo. According to ASI officials, reaction to various elements of the show can be viewed on a second-to-second basis.
Goodale also speaks to several producers who have used ASI for their market research, and relates stories about shows they have put through the wringer. Did you know that All in the Family initially bombed in audience testing because of the relationship between Archive Bunker and his wife Edith? When creator Norman Lear learned about this he warmed up the relationship a bit and, poof, television immortality.