Television is a big testing ground for marketers. But what is the test for a new TV program?
According to Mort Marcus, co-president of Debmar-Mercury, every producer needs to test --
especially in syndication. Stations and programmers can save a lot of money and time by testing in perhaps limited station deals. Debmar-Mercury
says station executives need extra insurance; Marcus can point to the fact that "Tyler Perry's House of
Payne" works well by first going to 10 stations before heading full throttle into wide release.
Other really big syndicators say they do testing as well. CBS Television Distribution will
point to personalities such as Dr. Phil, Rachael Ray, and The Doctors being tested with heavy guest star engagements on CBS' existing syndication shows like "Oprah Winfrey," before getting their own
But testing costs money. On the network side of things, that's where the TV development season
comes in, and those sometimes $5 million an episode pilots. Pilots give TV executives the chance to examine what works and what doesn't. It's only one episode. Why commit to a nine- or 13-episode
order if you don't know what you've got?
NBC doesn't necessarily believe in this -- since every show gets adjusted to some degree. If you have the fortitude, and a decent idea, go forward
because new TV shows always seem to change anyway. In that mode of thinking, NBC believes it can save perhaps tens of millions of dollars.
This is how cable works, more or less. Most
shows go virtually straight to series, four to six episodes, with the chance to do more. No doubt cable's dual revenue stream model is a financial buffer when programs fail.
Cable proponents will say this process works -- just look at the numbers: This year, cable programming is up 10% in prime-time viewing, while big four
networks are down 7%. For viewers 18 to 49, cable is up 9%, while broadcast is down 11%.
But truth is, not everything works in cable. TBS failed spectacularly with the Steven Bochco
courtroom drama, "Raising The Bar," which had great initial success and fell quickly after that.
Networks had fewer pilots this year, which I guess means less testing -- and its
numbers went down. Cable doesn't really test -- but its numbers go up.
Is cable's record better -- or is there much more tolerance for crappy shows