At the end of every season, there was one thing I especially looked forward to. In addition to the wrap party. I refer, of course, to the annual focus group research packages that neatly summed up the likes and dislikes of a very small sampling of our overall audience. From what I could tell, the methodology involved gathering viewer opinions via online questionnaire, engaging roughly 1000 respondents, about 200 of who actually watched our show (I was always quick to point out that they could gather a broader sampling by simply hitting up twitter, but my suggestion went largely ignored). Their answers were carefully tallied up and revealed in colorful fashion: pages of graphs, percentage tallies, multi-colored boxes, and venn diagrams. The result were distilled into a cover summary that would offer helpful direction for the next season. Thanks to these surveys, for example, we learned –
Our series regulars and likable characters, TWO and the Android chiefest among them, were the most popular while the character of the lecherous/murderous Wexler – who at the time had appeared in all of two episodes – was decidedly less popular. Hell, I would even go so far as to describe him as “unpopular”. Perhaps not surprisingly, Alicia Reynaud, who also appeared in all of two episodes, was not a fan favorite either.
On the one hand, audiences really enjoyed the complexity of the season 2 storylines but, on the other hand, they found a lot of the second season storylines too complex. They also simultaneously loved the show’s unpredictable twists and turns yet found these twists and turns somewhat predictable. They loved the fact that the season was action-driven and exciting, however they were disappointed in the slow pacing. They preferred instances in which the crew worked together as a team over technical explanations of space travel.
My favorite takeaways, however, were the conclusions that derived from cherry-picked responses and contextless feedback. For instance, audiences were asked to rate the importance of certain aspects of the show, say: relationships, space battles, and fight sequences. Relationships were of the greatest importance with space battles coming in second and fight sequences in third place. “See!”I’d be told. “Audiences don’t care about fight sequences!”
Another great example was “the great Android voice debate”. Amidst all the feedback we received on the show’s first season was some criticism of the Android’s voice as a handful respondents found it lacked the authority of classic android’s of yore. I guess. So a request was made to make sure the Android spoke in a more authoritative manner in season 2. My response: “GTFO!”. Never mind the fact that the Android character ranked either #1 or #2 in popularity across most categories, why the hell would you change a beloved character midstream? It’s not as if people who weren’t watching the show were going to see a preview and say: “Holy shit! That android character speaks with authority! I’m going to start watching this show!” More likely, fans of the Android will watch and wonder: “What the fuck did they do to the Android?”
It was on the heels of one of these yearly cross-network fact-finding summations that I found myself at a nameless network, looking to pitch. I sat down and started to roll into my first show, a horror-comedy in the spirit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “Look, I’m going to have to stop you right there,”said the senior executive in the room. “We’ve found that our audience doesn’t respond well to horror so horror is definitely not something we’re looking for. No horror.” As I shifted gears to my next pitch, the junior started talking about one of their upcoming new productions, a monster-themed show with, uh, comedic elements. “It’s great,”he enthused. “It’s alternately terrifying and horrifying.” And then, catching a look from the senior executive, he quickly added: “But more terrifying than horrifying.”