11/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How to Win a Presidential Debate

CNN's live coverage of Tuesday's presidential debate featured a graph at the bottom of the screen showing the continuous reaction of focus group respondents. The candidates would speak and two lines (one for men and the other women) would inch up or down depending on whether these dial twirling lab rats liked or didn't like what was being said (assuming they understood what was being said, not an automatic assumption).

Obama and McCain were being subjected to the same scrutiny given to the pilot of Til Death.

As the creator and producer of a number of TV pilots I am all-too familiar with this highly accurate method of determining something's worth. I have been on the other side of the one-way glass while forty nimrods who looked like they just fell out of a Coen Brothers movie twisted their little spinners while judging my creative baby. On the monitor above my head was the show with the running graphs. That joke suffered a 3% dip and women appreciated that line 7.3% more than men. Art reduced to a spreadsheet.

Producers learn to manipulate the system of course and construct their pilots specifically to win focus groups' favor. Writing a sharper joke is not nearly as important as getting that waitress to wear a Wonder Bra.

So for the next and last debate I offer the candidates a couple of suggestions for improving your test scores.

Cartwheels are huge. Focus groups love 'em! You could be proposing a 50% tax hike and if it's in the midst of a nifty acrobatic move your graph will shoot through the roof. Governor Palin, in a dress, especially missed a bet here.

Crossing your eyes is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. Saying the word "hooters" will elevate any statement on Iran's disturbing threat to world peace.

Take a moment in laying out your solution to the Social Security crisis to introduce the audience to your new puppy.

Get choked up. Doesn't matter of over what. But personal triumph over adversity tends to score higher than Urkel not being honored by the Kennedy Center. And if you don't have a personal triumph just lift something from Profiles in Courage. It's been almost fifty years. No one remembers that book. Look for at least one "Awwwwwwwww" moment.

Shoes matter. The road to the White House goes through Leffot in Manhattan.

Try singing one of your answers. Bad news always goes down easier when delivered by a karaoke Sinatra.

Your opponent says something you take great issue with? Just do a spit-take. You think anyone is going to listen to a "rebuttal"?

Finally and most important, in your closing remarks, make sure you say that this great nation was built by good strong Americans like you; concerned hard-working people who love this country and rate things.

Thank me at the Inaugural.

You can read more from Ken at

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