Instead of fading into failed TV history, some canceled pilots are given new life on the internet. Canned by the WB network, Nobody’s Watching,
has had more than 14.2 million online views. Wired’s Hugh Hart discusses the phenomenon and why we can expect more of this in the future.
BOB GARFIELD: It's that time of year when many television producers get the bad news that the pilot they've slaved over for the past year or more, that's been tweaked to accommodate the network's demands and refined to appeal to just about everyone, has been rejected. Of the 54 comedy pilots that were actually produced, only a select few have been picked up.
You might think that the shows that get thrown out are never seen again, but, of course, you'd be wrong. Rejected pilots have gone viral on sites like YouTube and BitTorrent and have amassed quite the audience. The rejected Nobody's Watching has had a combined total of 14.2 million views. [CLIP]: MAN: This is a message for all of you TV networks. Lately your sitcoms suck. MAN: They suck! MAN: I mean, come on! According to Jim? Awful. Good Morning, Miami? It ain't funny. [END OF CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD: That's a little bit from Nobody's Watching. Hugh Hart wrote about the phenomenon in Wired, and he joins me now. Hugh, welcome to OTM. HUGH HART: Good to be here. BOB GARFIELD: So this life after death for sitcoms, when did this phenomenon begin? HUGH HART: It began cropping up, I think, about when a drama called Global Frequency got turned down from the WB Network, and somehow or another the drama wound up on BitTorrent and people started downloading it. And a campaign to have it released on DVD and all these other kinds of effects followed a little bit of subversive uploading onto the Web.
So far, the networks have taken an adversarial stance towards unofficial postings of their copyrighted material on YouTube, MySpace and other sites, like BitTorrent. BOB GARFIELD: Now, one explanation for this hard-line legal approach could be that the production companies and the networks don't want to create a precedent of giving away content that they own. But you actually pose another possibility. HUGH HART: Absolutely. And this is something that each and every person that I spoke to for this story brought up, unsolicited. It's a question of network executive ego. These guys are paid, and paid well, to pick winners at the best, and, at the very least, contenders that they think have a shot at gathering up substantial primetime audience.
If it were to turn out that one of the sitcoms that they rejected as being a loser winds up gaining a following on the Internet, it makes them look less than perspicacious. BOB GARFIELD: So if, for the time being, most networks and production companies are clamping down, a couple have been a little bit more liberal. There is an [LAUGHS] Adam Sandler-produced program called Gay Robot, which is preposterously sophomoric, at least mildly offensive [LAUGHS] and pretty funny, at least the small segment I heard. In fact, let's listen to a bit of it. [CLIP]: [PHONE RINGS] MAN: Hey, Gay Robot, where are you? GAY ROBOT: I'm across campus at the Student Union. MAN: Well, come over. I'm watching the football game. [CLICK] Hello. Hello? MAN: Was that a chick? MAN: No, it's Gay Robot. MAN: Gay Robot. What's that?
MAN: You haven't met Gay Robot yet? He's my roommate here at the frat. Professor Edwards built him. MAN: While Professor was building the robot, he accidentally spilled a wine cooler on him, and he came out gay. MAN: Really? [HIGH "SHIMMERY" SOUNDS] GAY ROBOT: Hey, hey, hey! [END OF CLIP] BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Now, that's still on YouTube. Tell me why it's still there. HUGH HART: The pilot was rejected a few months ago by Comedy Central, and the idea now is to do what they call a "proof of concept," meaning let's throw it out there and see if the comedy actually works with ordinary comedy fans, and see what kind of a response it gets. Then we can take that as ammunition and return to maybe Comedy Central or some other network and say, look, it's got 14 million hits online. We still think it's a viable concept, even though it's been turned down earlier. What do you say you give it a second shot? BOB GARFIELD: Has anyone actually seriously discussed using the Internet to create the world's largest focus group? HUGH HART: That is exactly where I think things are likely to head in the next year or two. They came close to doing that with Nobody's Watching in the sense that NBC had picked up the show after it had been rejected by the WB.
And NBC said, well, maybe we should give this a shot. And they asked the producers to start producing Webisodes to kind of take the temperature of the Internet fan base and see what kind of response the characters and the comedic sensibility might have online. [CLIP]: [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
MAN: We thank you, Father, for the American Broadcasting Company and the miracle of the electromagnetic wave so that Will and I may experience this unparalleled television event. MAN: Amen. MAN: We thank you for "The Others." MAN: Amen. MAN: We thank you for the hatch. MAN: We thank you for killing Michelle Rodriguez. MAN: Amen! MAN: For the rock n' roll hobbit. And we do not thank you for all the copycat TV shows that are on this season. MAN: Not Amen. [END OF CLIP] BOB GARFIELD: Now, the number, 14.2 million views so far for the rejected Nobody's Watching, would seem to impeach the network's judgment. But, you know, if you think about it, 14.2 million viewers is kind of like one episode of the sort of average-rated network primetime sitcom. So how impressed should we be that over a period of months, 14.2 million people around the world have watched this thing? HUGH HART: That's a fair question. And it's true that you need big, big numbers to qualify as a primetime hit. It might be a question, frankly, of television creative types thinking more in terms of using some of their talents towards Web-specific content that cost a heck of a lot less to produce.
Maybe if they scaled down, produced something that was shorter but, one hopes, just as funny, [LAUGHING] if not funnier, that might be an entirely new model unto itself. BOB GARFIELD: Hugh, thank you very much. HUGH HART: Thanks for your time, Bob. BOB GARFIELD: Hugh Hart wrote about life-after-death TV pilots for Wired Magazine.