"Dear Televiewer," said the invitation, "We have taken the liberty of selecting you for an important role in television . . ."
Be still, my beating heart. Unfortunately, the rest of the sentence made it clear that this was not an opportunity to be plucked from the relative obscurity of Ellicott City and launched into stardom. Itwasn't even a chance to be a face in the crowd in a 2,000-person commercial.
No, the important role for which we had been selected was, as the letter explained, "to participate as a member of a hand-picked special audience at our two-hour session 'Television Preview.' "
Close enough. The invitation promised us a chance to voice our opinions on two pre-recorded typical half-hours of television programs, including the commercials without which no program (except on PBS) would be complete.
On the appointed night of Jan. 4, two of us crossed the border into Baltimore City and joined the other hand-picked televiewers at the Holiday Inn.
The evening produced culture shock inan individual whose last television-watching experience was the series "I, Claudius" at least a decade ago.
The first program was an alleged situation comedy about a couple in a commuter marriage entitled "Love Long Distance." The plot of the pilot show we saw was that the wife received unsigned gifts of flowers and candy, called her husband to thank him and eventually learned that a young man she had met at work was actually the sender.
The loudest sound in the room during the program was the canned laughter which the producers had inserted so that viewers at home could recognize that an amusing moment hadoccurred.
The second effort was a situation comedy about two adult sisters, one of whom is down on her luck and has been forced to move herself and her son in with her more affluent sibling. Titled "Sisters," it starred Sally Kellerman, who played Maj. Margaret "Hot Lips"Houlihan in the film "M.A.S.H."
"Well," said our colleague when the program ended, "Seeing the other program first made this one look good."
We duly filled out questionnaires that asked questions like, "Did you like the character? Did you like the actor? Was the idea of a secret admirer strong enough for the ("Love Long Distance") show?"
We began to wonder about Television Preview when many of the questions concerned how we felt about the commercials and when an unctuous telephone solicitor called us several days after the preview to ask not what we thought about the programs, but what we remembered about the commercials.
What we found out is that Television Preview isslightly less closemouthed about its work than the CIA. The service,based in Evansville, Ind., doesn't even have a listed telephone number.
"That's the way we like it," says George B. Edwards, director of operations. "We keep everything very confidential because of the nature of the business."
Edwards says his clients don't want publicity, but he acknowledges, "We do test for commercials, too. I'd be lying to you if I told you we didn't."
He says all the Television Preview tests are done in large cities. Which large cities "is strictlyup to the client," but the service has tested in Baltimore before.
And how did Television Preview happen to hand-pick us for its survey?
"It's at random, and I do mean random. We don't select any particular educational or economic level," says Edwards. He adds that he cannot disclose how many invitations went out to Baltimore-area residents, nor how many viewers Television Preview attempts to get for itspreviews.
So our invitation wasn't based on our star potential, perspicacity or vast knowledge of television programming. We just happened to be on somebody's mailing list.
SOURCE: Donna E. Boller
CHATTY MOVIEGOERS SHOULD GET THE BOOT
As shoe box-styled, multi-theaters go, the Columbia Palace 9 is as nice as they come.
The restrooms are clean. The concession counter is staffed with efficient help which dispenses food and drink that's always fresh. The theatersare clean and comfortable.
But even in a nice environment like the Columbia Palace 9, there's no escaping every moviegoer's fear -- those who come to talk instead of watch a movie.
Each time you go tothe movies, the feature presentation is preceded by a visual warm-upact. Previews of future films, radio station advertisements, no smoking warnings, advice on where to bolt in case of fire, and usually, areminder to have enough manners not to talk once the movie starts.
Of course, rules and laws are broken all the time, so what's to keep people from ignoring reminders to be polite?
I learned this lesson for the umpteenth time firsthand at a recent screening of "Misery," a title which perfectly captured part of the two hours I spent at the Palace 9 that night.
During the first 30 minutes of the flick,a group of people seated two rows in front of my date and me decidedto carry on a conversation.
It was only after my objection and several complaints by others seated next to us -- and an untold number of missed lines -- that the talkers cut the chatter and giggling and watched what they and the rest of us had paid some $10 each (refreshments included) to see.
Inconsideration is something we all have tolive with. You can't avoid it, you can't legislate against it. But maybe some theaters could try something stronger than a simple please-don't-talk-during-the-picture message before the main event.
Try amore forceful approach.
Let the last words moviegoers see on the screen before the feature presentation be the following: "Those who continue to talk during the movie will be tossed. No refunds."
SOURCE: Gary Lambrecht