Testing We’ll-See TV

They sat in the hotel banquet room watching TV for nearly two of hours, slipping off their shoes, laughing aloud and exchanging comments, which is just how the research firm that invited a crowd of local folks here Thursday night likes it.

Indeed, Television Preview, an Evansville, Ind., company that measures audience response to the latest shows and ads, wants people to feel as if they’re in their own den at home.

If you were among those in Orange and Los Angeles counties who didn’t receive or turned down the firm’s invitation (“Dear Televiewer, you have been selected to participate in a survey whose findings will directly influence what you see on television in the future” . . .), here’s what you missed:

* A 50-50 mix of TV shows and commercials. On Thursday, viewers gathered around four mid-sized sets saw two sitcoms, “City” and “Siblings,” starring Valerie Harper and Sally Kellerman, respectively, and ads for such products as Nature Made vitamins and minerals.


* A joke-cracking emcee with the camera-ready looks of a TV news anchor who asked the audience questions to which they responded on an eight-page answer sheet. Did they like the actors? How about the characters? Would they buy the product? Definitely? Probably? Possibly? Was the commercial believable?

* A chance to win one of six door prizes, which included modest amounts of cash, bags loaded with household goods or a year’s supply of diapers.

* The possibility of being turned away at the door. The company, which conducts roughly 150 such sessions in about eight cities nationwide for ad companies and TV studios, invited more people than it expected to show, which meant half a dozen disgruntled people were turned back to the Quality Hotel Maingate’s parking lot. As consolation, they received tickets to a future test. Everybody got a parking validation.

* Thirst, according to at least one viewer. No refreshments were allowed in the screening room, he said, and organizers urged all to stay until about 9:45, when the evening that had begun with registration at 7:15 ended. (The company signs confidentiality agreements with each client and bars the media from screenings. Participants do not sign a nondisclosure agreement.)

* An “interesting,” if not thrilling, evening, said many participants. Kimberly Gearhart, a paralegal, said she’d recommend it to her friends, adding half-jokingly, “if they didn’t have a whole lot to do with their lives.”