Over the weekend, online pirates were pleased to see that the flood was beginning: torrent sites across the internet began posting leaked screener copies of the 2007 pilots from FOX’s much-discussed Terminator spinoff Sarah Connor Chronicles (Pictured) to ABC’s buzz-worthy drama Pushing Daisies. I can only speculate, but I imagine that some people at the networks might be upset to see this. However, part of me really hopes that there is a certain number of employees who realize that these pilots leaking onto the internet is not the end of the world. In fact, it might be the best thing that happened to these shows. And the networks should have been putting them online themselves.
These pilots are leaking because the DVD Screeners sent to critics weren’t going to just sit there after being watched, and technology has reached a point where uploading shows is apparently quite easy (I’ve never done it myself). It is telling that the pilots uploaded thus far are the ones that are getting the most buzz in internet circles: fanboys are concerned over Sarah Connor Chronicles, critics are abuzz about Bryan Fuller’s (Wonderfalls) Pushing Daisies and NBC’s Chuck (From O.C. Creator Josh Schwartz), and Kevin Smith (Clerks) directed The CW’s Reaper (The first pilot to leak).
On the one hand, uptight network executives are probably concerned that their premiere ratings might go down as people watch the show ahead of time, or that bad buzz will take down the series before it can even get started. To those executives I make the following case: premiere ratings don’t matter, and the audience watching these shows online will not penetrate the casual mass of fans who make Two and a Half Men a comedy sensation. What you want to be doing is creating a fan base, something that this actually helps far more than it hurts.
If these networks want shows to succeed, they need to help embrace an online audience, those fans who will stay devoted to a series through thick and thin. It’s such a fanbase that saved Jericho in May, and one that saved Veronica Mars twice. Rather than worry about premiere ratings, networks should be more concerned with sustaining a fan base throughout an entire season. And, well, these shows need bigger fan bases.
The CW’s Reaper is a prime example of a show that would benefit greatly from people seeing its pilot. The show is funny (I’ll have a full preview soon), but it has a huge obstacle in its path: it airs at 9pm on Tuesdays against FOX’s House, a ratings giant. The show is going to struggle to find even a small audience on the night, and The CW has enough trouble selling dramas as it is.
However, the show has a lot of geek cred: Kevin Smith directing the pilot certainly gives it a boost, and the show features relatable twenty-something slackers. The more people that see the pilot, the more people that might spread the word or tell their friends about it. The more people that are aware, the potential audience for the series increases. It’s a fairly straightforward equation.
And that’s really what these networks want to do in this period before the show’s premiere in September or October: they want people to talk about them, to want to watch them. However, a commercial can never tell the whole story. And if people don’t “get it”, sometimes a show falls by the wayside. When the show’s premiere, they’re fighting with every other show for attention: online, during the summer, they’re the only new attraction in town. Don’t the networks see how beneficial that is?
Take ABC’s Pushing Daisies, a pilot I quite enjoyed. The setup for the story is a complex narrative of rules and structure surrounding the lead character’s abilities, and you really won’t “get” the series unless you watch the entire thing. If I hadn’t seen the pilot, I wouldn’t be able to properly sell someone on what might be the best new show of the year. It’s a confusing premise, but it works beautifully in practice: and people need to see that for themselves.
There is no better way to sell a series than to let people see it, which is why I challenge the networks to start posting a selection of their pilots online, themselves, through streaming video. Pushing Daisies is a show that can’t just be promoted normally, so embrace that and show it to online fans who are already preparing for a “Save This Show” campaign. Reaper has huge barriers to cross in terms of awareness, so make people aware.
There’s already precedent: NBC streamed episode of Andy Barker P.I. earlier this year. Mind you, they streamed too many and the show never had a chance anyways, but I think that the real trick is the focus on the pilots. Based on the amount of downloads of the leaked screeners, people are interested in seeing these, and I think the networks need to take advantage of this.
As online media becomes more and more common, networks need to embrace it as a marketing tool on par with that of commercials or even online banner ads. Some of these pilots will need help to survive, and if they simply sit back and let them fail without doing all they can I don’t see how they’ll ever expect their next cult series to gain any level of support.
So for tech savvy viewers, the pilots are currently available wherever fine torrents are downloaded. For those waiting with baited breath, hopefully networks get the message and you can be viewing pilots ahead of time before September rolls around. If they want to make fans out of you, they’ll hopefully come to their senses and help shows like Reaper and Pushing Daisies find an audience.