Whenever I make the mistake of turning my back on my mind for ten seconds, it inevitably goes running off wildly in all directions.
I was waiting for a bus the other day when a very short, balding little man with a horseshoe of white hair around his pate and an absolutely huge pot belly walked past carrying a briefcase. My immediate thought was: “I am May-or of the Munch-kin Cit-ty”. Go figure.
From there I for absolutely no reason thought of a place called “Preview House” in Los Angeles. People would stand out on busy street corners and offer you free tickets to see and rate TV pilots. I made the mistake of taking one.
Preview House was a very nice theater, with each seat having a small hand-held control unit with a dial and ten numbers, with which we were to record our reactions. Once everyone was seated,, an unctuously hale-fellows-well-met M.C. (or whatever it was he was supposed to be) appeared on the small stage in front of the screen to welcome us and say that we would be seeing two prospective pilots on which the networks would like potential audience reaction before scheduling them in prime time. To enhance the verisimilitude of the TV-watching experience, he advised us they’d also be showing some new commercials as well, and that we should rate them also. He gave us detailed instructions on dial-turning, which he apparently assumed most members of the audience would find difficult to grasp. The houselights dimmed and, the commercials began. Lots of commercials: it seemed like ten or twelve of them, and we all duly rated each one. Finally the first promised TV pilot began.
It was obvious from ten seconds in that this was not only the most God-awful television program ever recorded but that it had, in fact, been recorded some ten to fifteen years earlier. But there were the requisite “commercial breaks” for another endless string of commercials. I was amazed that no one got up and left the theater after the first fifteen minutes of the show. I guess, like me, they were thinking the second pilot would be better.
If possible, the second show was even a greater stinker than the first. At last it was over, and I and everyone else rose in great relief. But the M.C. hurried back on the small stage looking distraught, and said: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am horribly sorry to tell you this, but there was some malfunction with the equipment recording reactions to the commercials, and we’ve lost it all. We feel terrible about this, but could I please implore you to watch them again?”
I suspect that the doors were locked had anyone actually tried to leave, but the guy was so very sincere and gave the impression that if anyone didn’t want to help him out, here, he might well lose his job. So we all sat back down, watched the 30 or so commercials again, and re-entered our reactions to each one.
Thanking us profusely for our cooperation, the M.C. bid us a good night.
Six months later, a friend who had never experienced the joys of Preview House said “Hey! I got us free tickets to Preview House! Let’s go!” So, against my better judgement, I went.
Need I tell you that we were treated to exactly the same execrable pilots, though of course the commercials were different. When it ended, everyone started to get up, but I did not. I knew what was coming. The M.C. appeared and said: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m horribly sorry to tell you this, but....”
For you see, boys and girls, the entire purpose of Preview House was to help advertisers determine which commercials worked and which didn’t. And by forcing us to sit through them twice, they were able to tell whether our opinion of the product being touted may have changed...hopefully improved by seeing it more than once.
I gave each commercial the lowest possible rating the second time around. I don’t think they cared.
I never went back to Preview House, but if you ever get to Los Angeles, watch for someone on the street passing out free tickets.
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