Audience test scores and “The Office”
I’m not the first guy to not get fashion magazines. You take the world’s best-looking people, give them the world’s best make-up artists and hairstylists and photographers, airbrush out what imperfections remain...and half the time they still look like heroin addicts. But Patricia subscribes to a few of these things and sometimes they’re worthwhile. The W magazine with Charlize Theron on the cover includes an article on Ricky Gervais of The Office fame, horribly titled “Tricky Ricky,” in which we get the following:
Before The Office premiered on the BBC in 2001, Gervais recalls, the show received the lowest audience test scores in the network’s history, but he defended every word in the script. It was a similar story with the American version: Gervais remembers getting an e-mail from producer Greg Daniels saying the series had scored abysmally. “I sent back a message: ‘Brilliant, so did we,’” he says. Now, he points out, The Office is NBC’s highest-rated sitcom. “All the things I’ve ever loved, I hated at first,” Gervais adds. “the best things are an acquired taste.”
For the writer, Paul Quinn, the point of this story is that Gervais’ apparent self-assurance, “rooted in defensive smugness or genuine confidence,” helped save his greatest creation. Here’s the lesson to me: Audience testing sucks. Seriously. It was the same story for Seinfeld, which became one of the most successful sitcoms in TV history. But the initial test scores reflected an audience distaste. People didn’t like it because they didn’t get it. It wasn’t familiar.
One wonders if testers are attempting to fix this obvious problem with innovative shows and movies. Forget aesthetics for a moment. Just think of the money. These things are cash cows. Cash cows with long fucking lives. And the money people, whose job it is to find such cash cows, when confronted with them, actually try to turn them into something else.
If you don’t recognize Seinfeld and The Office and The Office for what they are, or what they might be, what good are you? How many other Seinfelds are you turning into something ordinary and short-lived? How much money are the money-people blowing?