After the cancellation of the science fiction television program Firefly, its dedicated fan base was able to grow a large enough community via the web to convince Universal Studios to obtain the rights of the show from Fox and produce the movie, Serenity. Based on the ability for a fan community to organized and prove a viable market, the show’s creator Joss Whedon later mused that he would consider releasing his next pilot directly to audiences via the web and bypass the traditional studio development pathway. The New York Times reports on a failed pilot created by Bill Lawrence made be achieve what Whedon envisioned.
Lawrence, who created “Spin City” and “Scrubs,” has seen his pilot called, “Nobody’s Watching” get resurrected after being shelved before it even aired. The show is about two 20-something men from Ohio who send a self made video tape of themselves lamenting the state of the television sit-com to the networks. They get hired by the WB to live on a sound stage, and star in their own reality television show about making a sit-com. After filming the pilot, the WB decided to pass on the series. A person Lawrence will not identify independently leaked the pilot to YouTube, and it has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times since then. The popularity of the pilot has generated new found interest from network and cable channels. “Nobody’s Watching” could be the first example where the public saved a failed pilot before it ever aired. The irony of the show’s statements that the audience should be final arbiter of programming and it new found life on YouTube is amusing.
As I posted last week, video sharing services like YouTube are fundamentally changing the distribution channels of entertainment. The feedback loop between content and audience is shrinking. Audiences can have a direct effect on around which pilots get made into a fully produced television series. The traditional gatekeepers, that is studio execs are finally beginning to they can utilize the better communication with viewers via the Internet, as they try to maintain their viewers that are increasing moving towards other forms of entertainment.