Rob Thomas, the Veronica Mars creator (and part-time Texan) who resurrected his cult-favorite TV series as a crowd-funded feature film set to premiere a decade after the show initially premiered, has been updating fans about the filmmaking process via Kickstarter. In a missive from last October, he explained how the test screening process works:
In television, test screenings are done in a very specific way. Fifty people sit behind one-way mirrors and watch your new pilot while holding a dial in their hands, dialing up when they enjoy what they’re seeing on screen, dialing down when they’re not enjoying what they’re seeing on screen. I am on the other side of the glass wondering why my Xanax hasn’t kicked in yet. Invariably people dial down in sad scenes and dial up in happy scenes, even though that isn’t really how it’s supposed to work.
Afterwards, the audience testing company suggests that you remove all the sad scenes from your show.
(Secret tips for future TV writers: people dial up when they see dogs! People dial up when good looking people take off their shirts! These things may seem self-evident, but it took me way too long to understand this seemingly simple concept.)
It was hard to avoid thinking about Thomas’ “secret tip” when watching the premiere of ABC’s new drama Killer Women last night. The show is a procedural about a lady—played by Battlestar Galactica‘s Tricia Helfer—serving in the Texas Rangers (how novel!). And the pilot featured at least three different, focus-group friendly, good-looking people without shirts at various points (Helfer, co-star Marc Blucas, and guest star Nadine Vasquez) as well as two gratuitous dog shots.
The episode centered around Ranger Molly Parker (Helfer), who had to solve the murder of a Bexar County assistant district attorney’s bride, who was killed at the altar just before their wedding ceremony by a woman in a red dress (Vasquez). San Antonio police, embodying the sexist, dismissive voice of the patriarchy that apparently Parker spends her entire career battling against, insists that it’s an open-and-shut case, when Vasquez’s character explains in custody that the murder was a crime of passion borne out of an ongoing affair that she’d been having with the ADA. Parker, meanwhile, suspects differently: the shooter’s nail polish was chipped, and, she says, “You don’t shoot the wife of your soulmate without looking like the women he should have picked.”
The show passes off goofy lines like that as police wisdom throughout the episode—it’s probably unlikely that there’s a pithy, standard profile of women who shoot their lovers’ brides-to-be at the altar—and rounds out its time by filling the episode with random Texana. We learn that Vasquez’s character was arrested at a Chuy’s in San Antonio! There are shots of Parker on a ranch with cattle! The guy who played Buddy Garrity on Friday Night Lights shows up to say something sexist, dismissive, and horrible, just like every other male character! They talk about migas! There’s a scene at the Texas Capitol! At the episode’s end, Parker heads up to Austin and sits in on the trumpet with the Mavericks during a set at the Continental Club!
Ultimately, of course, it’s revealed that the complications that Ranger Parker suspected in the shooting were complicated, indeed: The shooter was not having an affair with the ADA, but she was acting on orders from an unspecified Mexican drug cartel that had kidnapped her family and forced her to commit the crime. So Parker, along with her DEA buddy (Blucas), head off to Mexico to pull a daring rescue. (More sample dialogue: “There’s an excellent chance we’re going to die in Mexico tonight,” the DEA agent intones as he agrees to help her in the illegal operation.)
So, yeah, Killer Women is pretty bad. It’s got a window-dressing level of understanding to the dynamics of Texas, and an equally shallow interest in the gender dynamics that a more compelling show about a woman in an organization as historically dominated by men as the Texas Rangers might have explored in fascinating ways. Here, though, there are just a bunch of clichés and the occasional shot of Helfer in a cowboy hat to remind you that this is Texas.
Fortunately, audiences aren’t likely to be subjected to Killer Women in any real dosage: The pilot snagged an abysmal 0.9 rating last night, and Twitter’s @TheCancelBear declared that the show “flopped dead” in its premiere. The ursine observer of television fortunes is rarely wrong about such things, which means that the future of Ranger Parker and the clichéd Texans she serves and protects is very likely to be a short one.