January 2007 - That's a Wrap!

Making Good TV

By Drew Plotkin

When I first moved to Los Angeles looking to transition from my career as a TV news producer, I briefly explored sitcom writing before finally landing in the world of infomercials. Sitcom writing taught me two things: 1) I wasn’t very funny; and 2) regardless of the format, making good TV that can keep people engaged is truly an art form.

While my aspiring career as a sitcom writer was exceptionally short lived, I found that much of what I learned in Sitcom 101 could be applied to producing successful infomercials. For one thing, as with sitcoms, it’s not uncommon for an infomercial to go through a dozen rounds of creative and script drafts before even going into production. And often times, original ideas that seem absolutely brilliant on paper simply don’t translate on set. The very best storylines often evolve and build upon themselves during the actual production process.

During a recent production for an acne skincare infomercial, we uncovered an emotional, reoccurring theme among our testimonials: They’d always avoided having their pictures taken. Boom. We made some quick scheduling changes and modifications to the script and invited some of our testimonials to a Hollywood-style “behind the scenes” photo shoot to celebrate their newfound confidence. This directional change made the show.

Something else I learned during my brief endeavor into the world of sitcom writing is that it’s often not what people say, but how they say it. Think “Seinfeld” or “Frasier.” While the dialogue in those shows is clever, the words are actually not what’s funny. The humor or “payoff” is in the characters and the actual delivery of the lines. The same applies to infomercial hosts and testimonials. It’s not what they say, but how they say it.

One of the best testimonials I’ve ever used is a woman who says almost nothing of any real substance during her interview, but her persona and delivery make it clear she loves the product and believes in it. And consequently, viewers associate that with the brand.

And have you ever wondered why legendary infomercial hosts such as Ron Popeil, Richard Simmons and Tony Little consistently draw such an overwhelming response from viewers? It’s because they come across as genuine, passionate and unscripted-just like any top performer you’d see on TV.

A top sitcom writer once told me that his best material does not come from sitting in front of a computer and writing, but from being out in the world and observing. The same applies to infomercials. For a recent vacuum infomercial, I got some of my best material spending a Saturday morning at Sears, observing and talking to customers looking at vacuum cleaners.

The formats between sitcoms and infomercials-and even TV news-certainly have many differences. But one thing I’ve learned from my experiences over the years…good TV is good TV. If you make it, they will watch!

Drew Plotkin is a partner and creative director for LaunchDRTV in Marina Del Rey Calif. He can be reached at (866) 623-DRTV, or via e-mail at [email protected].


No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment