Testing One, Two, Three
If you end up not liking one of the new fall shows, you may have your neighbor to blame. That’s right: Regular folks, not just Hollywood suits, play a key role in deciding what makes it on the networks. Despite constant derision from the creative community (”It’s a despicable system,” says one scribe), test audiences — whether they gather for $50 in a Glendale, Calif., theater or see pilots via their cable box — are a fact of life each May when the six nets decide which series to pick up. ”On average, shows that test well do better,” argues a network exec, citing Touched by an Angel. There are, of course, exceptions: Neither Seinfeld nor Friends was a hit with test audiences. Fortunately, NBC didn’t pay attention. But sources say the Peacock did take a hint when a comedy with Seinfeld‘s Wayne Knight elicited a negative response (Knight’s now a no-show for fall). Conversely, sources say NBC had problems with the new Michael Richards sitcom, but the Seinfeld costar was a hit with focus groups. That’s why he’s on the schedule for fall. ”Execs have an opinion every step of the way to the point of overkill, and at the end they turn over [programming] responsibility to 50 mutants,” huffs the scribe. ”[That way] they don’t have to stick their necks out and say this is good or bad. They can point to testing.”
Has the American appetite for reality series finally reached its limit? After only six airings, ABC yanked the dismally ranked boy-group series Making the Band (it averaged a mere 8.3 million viewers). But Alphabet execs believe there is still steam in the genre, which is why they’re relaunching the series — created by The Real World‘s Bunim-Murray Productions and boy-band Svengali Lou Pearlman—on May 26, complete with a one-hour primer updating folks on what they missed in March and April. Meanwhile, CBS, which has reality epics Survivor and Big Brother in the offing, doesn’t seem worried about Making the Band‘s flat reception: ”There’s a big difference between a show about people trying to survive on a remote island and one about a couple of guys [putting] a band together,” says CBS spokesman Chris Ender. ”And Big Brother is already a phenomenon in the Netherlands and Germany.” All right, already: Bring on those rat eaters from Borneo!
Not So Even Steven
Turns out Steven Spielberg doesn’t always have the golden touch. His military drama Semper Fi failed to make the cut on NBC’s fall schedule amid concerns the show would skew old (though one insider says the network ”was worried it wasn’t going to skew anything” because the script was so bad). But Semper Fi will march on: NBC will pick up the drama about young Marine recruits, but not without major changes in the production staff and scripts, sources say. It will likely bow in early 2001.