Q+A with Bennie Williams, VP Audience Tester

By: Lizzy Buczak

Bennie Williams is a VP Audience Researcher at FOX. Part of Williams job is to test a show with various audiences and find out what pilots will work and which ones wont. I got to chat with Williams briefly about serialized and procedural TV shows, specifically LOST and ALCATRAZ. Serialized shows include characters, story lines and themes that develop over a period of time and build up towards a gradual climax, usually leaving viewers with a suspenseful finale. Procedural shows introduce a new and specific circumstance that the characters must solve by the end of the episode and can be aired and viewed out of order.

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Q: As someone who works at Fox and does a lot of audience testing for shows, why do you think Lost did so well and Alcatraz failed after just one short season??

A: In my opinion I think LOST was a much better show with much better casting.  The idea/premise of LOST (in the beginning stages) was very straight forward whereas ALCATRAZ was a much tougher “buy-in” for viewers.  So from the very early stages I think LOST had built in advantages that ALCATRAZ did not.

Q: What types of shows do networks prefer to get committed too? Serialized shows, that have more of a thematic storyline or procedural shows that could be watched whenever and out of sequence? Why??

A: That’s a tough question because every network is different.  Generally, serialized shows are thought to be much tougher to maintain than procedural’s; however, network look for shows that they believe in more than anything.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the importance of syndication to a network versus syndication to the production itself?

A: Syndication is only important to the network if they or their studio owns the show.  NBC doesn’t have much at stake if a WB produced show makes it to syndication.

Q: What impact do you think Netflix and other online streaming site have for shows in the future? 

A: That is yet to be determined.  In my opinion it’ll impact network viewing somewhat, especially for serialized shows, but that’s a long time from now.

Q: Did you ever watch Lost?? Do you think that the mythology in the story line was a little too complicated for the average viewer?

I didn’t watch LOST at all.  I disliked the pilot and never really gave the show a chance.  Judging from the ratings it got I think average viewers didn’t find it too complicated at all.

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