Let’s play a game. It’s a new game I’ve just invented. I promise it’s better than my last one. It’s called Through the D Hole. The D stands for demographics. It was originally going to be Audience, but A doesn’t rhyme with ‘Key’. Plus the game would have had a whole host of other connotations I didn’t really intend. So demographics it is.
This is how it works. It’s pretty much like Through the Keyhole in that through a series of clues about a TV series, you have to guess the target demographic of the series. The fewer clues, the cleverer you are and the more derivative the show. Simple, huh?
To show you how it works, we’re going to run through an example. The show we’re going to use as an example is Pepper Dennis.
So that’s your first clue. Let’s study the punctuation carefully. It’s not Pepper, Dennis?, which would probably be some arch comedy of manners in the vein of Keeping Up Appearances. It’s not Pepper Dennis!, which would probably be a game show in which people throw various powders at the eponymous Dennis. It’s Pepper Dennis. Since shows need to have reasonably descriptive names or else no one will watch them after spotting them in TV Guide, we can assume Pepper Dennis is the name of a person rather than a boat or law firm.
So what kind of person is called ‘Pepper Dennis’? No real human being, so that’s a problem. Since US TV shows named after the lead characters have this Dickensian idea that names are a clue to personality, we know that ‘Pepper’ has to be sparky. Furthermore, we can assume it’s a woman, not a man, because it sounds too wimpy for a made up male name on TV (it would have to be something like ‘Semtex Dennis’ if were to be a man). Wow. We’re doing well already.
So we have a sparky female lead in a show named after her. That gives us two possible demographics: women and teenage/young men. But shows with female leads that use two or more names of the character are always targeted at women (think Ally McBeal, Sue Thomas: FBEye) rather than men (think Buffy, Tru Calling, etc), except when it’s a sitcom (Roseanne, Reba, Blossom, etc). So Pepper Dennis is targeted at women. Pepper isn’t quite a grown-up name so we’re talking young women.
Ta da. I’ll name that demographic in one, David.
See how easy that was? Given just the name of this one show, we were able to work out its exact demographic. And since it only took one clue, we already know, well in advance, just how derivative it is, thus saving us all from having to watch it. It’s a useful game, as well as fun.
Let’s compare with the facts though, just to make sure we didn’t skimp on the workings out and to make sure this game works.
Pepper Dennis stars Rebecca Romijn as Pepper Dennis, one of those journalists who exist purely to prey upon the weak in TV dramas. It’s true in real life of course. I’d have taken over the world by now, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.
Piper is always after a story and being beautiful, aggressive and otherwise perfect, always gets it. She has high standards in men, too, and only someone at least as good as her will ever woo her.
But wait. A new anchor arrives at her station. Before she’s met him at work though, she ends up sleeping with him! Hilarity results, as you can imagine, particularly when it turns out he’s as good as her. Has Pepper found true love? Will the return of her loser sister to her life make her a better person?
Of course she has. Of course she will. Are you nuts? The show has as much originality as the “sisters bonding over a tub of ice cream while they share their woes about men” scene at the end. I could write down for you – now if you wanted – the exact formula used to pick every single nuance of character in each role. I’m surprised they even credit a writer on the show, given that every element of it was determined by focus group and watching old episodes of Gilmore Girls and Dawson’s Creek.
Pepper will continue to seek out stories, episode by episode, find out that the way forward in her career – and love – is to embrace not suppress the woman inside herself. Only then, when she has accepted her vulnerabilities make her strong, will she get everything she wants. No need to watch it, now.
So there we go. Game proven. Over to you audience. Your next challenges: Thief, currently airing on FX; and if you haven’t already read my review of it, Teachers, airing on NBC. Enjoy your trip through the D hole…