TV preview should cancel itself

They didn’t use my credit cards to buy plane tickets, they didn’t post my face on somebody else’s naked body all over the Internet, and they didn’t con me into sending thousands of dollars overseas as a wise investment plan.

Instead, they lured me and three of my friends into what seemed like a recession-friendly night out just to insult our intelligence. It happened like this: Four tickets came in the mail, it sounded fun enough, we thought it might be entertaining, so we went. The tickets came from Television Preview with a letter explaining the event. Their website gives the same information:

“You do something almost everyone does at one time or another; watch TV. You get a chance to express your opinions about what you see in a way that will actually be listened to by people involved with television. Additionally, if the material you evaluate is later telecast, you can rightly conclude that your opinion was considered before that decision was made.

“We show pre-recorded 1/2 hour segments of television material, including commercials. We collect opinions, reactions, and input from a large body of people from across the country. Once evaluated, we pass the data along to producers, directors, and those involved in making airing decisions.”

These two paragraphs, now that I re-read them, are like those optical illusions where most people see one image, but after somebody tells you there’s something else there and you give it a good stare, you see a different image. Most people read those paragraphs and assume they will be shown current TV pilots and asked for their opinions.

But clearly, the two programs shown at the screening event were never making it to prime time. One starred Rue McClanahan, probably filmed in between episodes of being Blanche the tramp on “The Golden Girls” and a guest appearance on “Boy Meets World” in its heyday on TGIF. The other show, the host said, starred Kim Raver who was “currently starring in ‘Lipstick Jungle’ as Nico Reilly.” Need I remind anybody that the series she referenced as current has already been canceled?

In a quick Google search, I found a guy who was sent one of the same invitations, he saw “Dads” with Blanche in it. This was in 2004, but of course I didn’t realize Television Preview was such a well-known scam on the web.

We started to figure out what we were in for when we saw the row of 27″ TVs on the wheeled devices the AV geeks used to roll down the halls in high school. In a facility with drop-down screens and projectors, it was pretty obvious that they were compensating for some poor video quality. It would be torturous to watch an old show like “Dinosaurs” that was taped onto VHS on a big screen, so at least we were spared the eyesore.

After circling 20 pages worth of pictorial questions about our favorite toilet paper, toothpaste and diaper rash products and harassing the loner kid next to us, we got to watch the first show, with commercials of course, then filled out another questionnaire. This time the survey was more of a molestation of my private life, asking everything but how many sexual partners I’ve had. There was one page of lame questions about how steamy the chemistry was between the main characters, in both their past and present lives. Then it went on for several more pages about my favorite household products, many of which were advertised during the show.

The Better Business Bureau states the nature of the company as “providing TV pilots for review and critiquing,” which is extremely misleading because even though you provide one page of review on the storyline, the other 20 or so pages are based on the advertising. But I still can’t figure out how this is a successful marketing campaign, when there are going to be people in the audience like me circling every generic brand and claiming to make more money a year than Oakland University’s president Gary Russi (see page 6). And really, not everybody needs to buy the necessities like Nicotene patches and toilet paper.

Among the commercials shown as part of the ruse to get opinions on what were actually failed TV pilots, was one for Chantix, a smoking cessation pill. Hopefully this isn’t Pfizer’s idea of fulfilling its FDA mandated study to investigate about 37 suicides and over 400 reports of suicidal behavior in connection with the drug, as reported by the Associated Press. It’s no laughing matter, but the only time the audience actually laughed in unison was after the reading of Chantix’s possible side effects, oddly enough a much longer list than the consequences of smoking two packs of Lucky’s and a blunt a day.

I guess we really didn’t expect the evening to be anything more than a funny story, and that it was.