Q & A: Commercial Testing with Unsold Pilots

I get a lot of e-mails from people asking me about television shows, made-for-TV movies or miniseries they remember from years or even decades past. I try to answer each question as best I can. Every now and then I like to pull out a few e-mails to answer here at Television Obscurities for everyone to enjoy. Keep reading for today’s questions and answers.

I’m looking to (somehow) track down a copy of a pilot that may have never aired. I saw it back in the early to mid 80’s at a hotel in Maryland where a group of folks had been invited to watch and review two pilots and a bunch of TV commercials. The first show was The Ugily Family starring Al Molinaro (which was terrible) and the second was Bumpers, a Cheers-like show about working in a car wash. I and my two friends remember it being brilliantly written and quite funny (which is probably why it disappeared). I’d love to see it again but I can’t find any info on it anywhere. Any thoughts or ideas?
Scott

It was easy enough to track down information about these two pilots. “Bumpers,” produced by MTM Enterprises, was in contention for ABC’s 1977-1978 schedule but wasn’t picked up. Richard Masur starred as Joey Webber, a Detroit assembly-line worker who spent his days attached bumpers to cars. In the pilot, Joey gets a loan to help his wife Rozzie (played by Stephanie Farac) go to dental school but ends up giving the money to his recently homeless and unemployed brother Andy (played by Michael McManus), who moves in with Joey and Rozzie. The pilot aired on Monday, May 16th, 1977.

“The Ugily Family” was an ABC sitcom pilot developed for the 1979-1980 season. Produced by Paramount, it starred Al Molinaro as Sal Ugily, a blue collar worker who gets a promotion and moves his family from New Jersey to California. The humor was derived from the Ugily family (whose last name was often mispronounced) trying to adapt to their new surroundings and the new people they meet. Mimi Hines, Susan Elliot, Stephen Myers, and Bella Bruck also appeared in the pilot. It was not picked up but ABC aired it on Saturday, July 26th, 1980.

So the pilots were real. But I couldn’t find any evidence that “Bumpers” and “The Ugily Family” were screened as part of commercial testing focus groups in the early 1980s. The time frame didn’t seem to fit. “Bumpers” was from 1977. Why would it be used in the 1980s? At first, I assumed Scott was simply mistaken but he was certain he watched it after 1981 because he didn’t meet the friends he watched it with until then.

Eventually, I stumbled upon an August 1993 discussion in the ba.broadcast Usenet group that confirmed both “Bumpers” and “The Ugilily Family” were indeed used for many years by a company (or companies) doing commercial testing. Several people remembered watching both pilots and being asked about commercials. Such screenings took place all over the country, including Chicago and San Francisco.

Because the goal of these test screenings was to gauge reaction to commercials, the age of the pilot episode used wasn’t important. Hit the comments if you attended a focus group and watched either of these pilots. I wonder how recently they were being used.


5 Comments

  • Patrick Murtha says:

    A friend of mine saw “The Ugily Family” under these conditions in the mid to late 1980s.

  • Alvaro Leos says:

    Apparently showing people a failed pilot as an excuse to do commercial testing is fairly common. Check out this webpage http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0799994/reviews?ref_=tt_urv
    for a pilot which has become pretty infamous for this ploy.

  • Matt says:

    I attended a commercial test-marketing program in the mid-’90s where they showed an unsold sitcom pilot with Sally Kellerman as a free spirited type and another actress (I forgot who) as her straight-laced sister. I remember thinking it looked old, like from the mid-’80s. This show doesn’t appear on Kellerman’s IMDB page and to my knowledge was never aired on network TV.

  • Roger Reini says:

    I remember seeing The Ugily Family at a commercial-testing event in suburban Detroit in 1987. And I’m pretty sure I remember seeing it on ABC, too.

  • Jeff Mc says:

    I saw “The Ugily Family” as part of a TV commercial focus group in Toronto, in the mid 80s. Lyles Waggoner had a cameo in it.

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