Hey everyone, Flobo here!
I’m probably dating myself when I say this, but I’m a BIG fan of vaudeville. Seriously, if there was a way for me to resurrect the lost art form, I would. The predecessor to the common variety show, vaudeville was a slice of Americana. The closest thing to vaudeville we had in the last ten years or so, was when Cedric The Entertainer had his own show on FOX.
But it just wasn’t the same.
So why am I bringing it up? Well, there was a saying from the vaudeville days that ended up seeping into all aspects of entertainment, writing included. That saying was, “Will it play in Peoria”?
The phrase came from performers that were sure that they had a great act on their hands, but wasn’t sure if it would be universally received. Since Peoria (Illinois) was a large train station town with a very “middle American” audience, it was understood that if the act went well there, it would do well anywhere. (Take that Sinatra). Before long the phrase morphed into a catch-all phrase that asked whether or not something would appeal to the “common man”.
Ironically in today’s research oriented world, towns like Charleston, SC and Albany, NY are in fact considered better “research towns” in determining national trends, but I digress.
Let’s take one of my favorite writers in Aaron Sorkin for example. “The West Wing” was a television show and a cultural icon. People tuned in droves during it’s heyday to watch (and learn) about the fictionalized inner-workings of the executive branch of the government. When it came time for his follow up, Sorkin wanted to put that same in-depth lens on the entertainment industry via a SNL-like sketch show:
I would argue (and usually lose) that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was the better show, because it didn’t concern itself with being restrained by the geopolitical landscape at the time. It was a fun program that had engaging characters, and interesting plot lines, (despite the Army storyline running one or two episodes too many). Anyway, the show bombed, got canceled, and only survives on the DVD shelves of people like yours truly. The reason given for its cancellation? Every Joe Schmoe American was interested in how the president runs the country, but a show about a show only appealed in cities where there was a pronounced entertainment industry. The show did well in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. As for the Midwest States, it got the cold shoulder.
It didn’t play in Peoria.
I guess what I’m trying to say is KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Writing for yourself is a great writer’s block breaker but eventually your work is going to be read by someone taking a chance on your work. Who’s it for? More importantly, who IS NOT part of your intended audience? If you say your next book is for “everyone”, then you should stop writing it now.
Take this guy for example:
Love Dane Cook’s humor or not, there’s no denying that he has more money than you. Why? Well, when he was climbing through the ranks of standup, Mr. Cook catered his act towards college-aged males and his shows reflected that. Despite the fact that males under the age of 34 is the most sought after demographic for advertisers, Cook became a champion to them due the fact he was having shows on college campuses (campi?). He was was seen as “underground” even though that term wasn’t quite accurate. He played to his audience, and that’s a skill entertainers from all crafts can learn from.
From here to Peoria.