‘Nobody’s Watching’ Gets Revival on Web

Jul 3, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Somebody is watching the failed NBC Universal Television Studios pilot “Nobody’s Watching.”

Thanks to an anonymous posting on the video-sharing Web site YouTube.com in mid-June, the pilot-which was initially developed in 2005 for The WB but ultimately rejected-has found a new life.

In the first two weeks since the pilot was posted, users viewed three nine-minute segments of the “Nobody” pilot more than 440,000 times, according to the Web site. Unlike most failed pilots, which disappear into TV oblivion, networks are considering “Nobody’s” for a series pickup due to its transformation into an online phenomenon.

This turnaround marks a growing relationship between Web-based video sites and the television development model. For the first time, user interest is driving networks to consider a series pickup based on the reaction of viewers to the finished pilot.

“It’s so weird because it’s such uncharted territory,” said Neil Goldman, one of the show’s two co-creators.

“Nobody’s Watching” started out the way most pilots do. Bill Lawrence, the creator of the NUTS comedy “Scrubs,” approached Mr. Goldman and his writing partner Garrett Donovan and asked them to write a pilot he could supervise. The pair wrote “Nobody” in summer 2004 for contention for the 2005-06 season.

The premise: A network approaches a pair of young sitcom fanatics disappointed in the state of TV comedy and asks them to develop a sitcom. However, the pair are unaware they have become the center of a new reality show the network is planning.

The WB included the reality-comedy hybrid concept in the half-hours it was considering for fall 2005, but ultimately passed on the project.

Despite the pilot’s failure, NUTS signed Mr. Goldman and Mr. Donovan to an overall development deal, and put one of the pilot’s leads, Paul Campbell, into a talent holding deal.

This June a visitor to the “Scrubs” Web site wrote on a show message board that fans could see a pilot written by two “Scrubs” writers on YouTube.

Mr. Lawrence regarded the posting as “nothing but a lark,” but after YouTube made “Nobody” a feature video, the pilot cracked 100,000 viewings.

Executives from cable networks E! and Comedy Central were among the first to inquire about the project following the YouTube exposure, Mr. Goldman said.

Mr. Lawrence and the creators let NUTS executives know that the “Nobody” pilot had been posted to YouTube and that E! and Comedy Central had expressed interest in the project. “The neat thing is a couple days after we alerted them, we got an e-mail from [NBC Entertainment President] Kevin Reilly,” he said.

Mr. Reilly has scheduled a meeting to hear a pitch after the Independence Day holiday about redeveloping “Nobody” for NBC.

Wisdom of the Crowd

The easiest analogy to “Nobody’s Watching’s” resurrection is “Family Guy,” Mr. Lawrence said. “Family Guy” had already been canceled twice by Fox when the series’ first season was released on DVD and later ran in reruns on cable. The DVD sales and cable ratings were so strong, 20th Century Fox TV, which produced “Guy,” went back into production with the show after Fox expressed interest in revisiting the series.

Like “Family Guy,” “Nobody” has proven an actual audience is interested in the show.

That makes a great pitch, since the pilot has become its own self-promoting phenomenon in a world where viewers are distracted by myriad TV, Internet and video game choices.

“Half the battle is getting people to turn it on in the beginning,” Mr. Lawrence said. “I have a better chance getting this show on the air than the other shows I’m developing.”

Mr. Lawrence also hired a public relations firm to seek media coverage of the story, hoping to drive even more traffic to YouTube.

“Our ultimate goal was to get enough critical response and publicity that it becomes a selling point for this project,” he said. “We are certainly not innocent bystanders.”

Like the “Family Guy” scenario, serendipitous elements allowed “Nobody” to stay on YouTube. Networks and major studios have been quick to fire off cease-and-desist orders when their content has shown up on video-sharing sites. But since “Nobody” was developed for the soon-to-be defunct The WB, there was no issue of embarrassing the network that first bought the pilot.

“It would be different if it was developed for NBC,” Mr. Goldman said. “There’s nothing to be lost, all to be gained.”

Mr. Lawrence credits NUTS President Angela Bromstad for seeing the unique opportunity of letting the pilot run on YouTube and holding back the larger corporate powers that be from issuing a cease-and-desist order.

“Angela said ‘hold on a second,'” Mr. Lawrence said. “She was the one that got permission.”

As for who made the pilot available to YouTube, Mr. Lawrence isn’t talking.

“I know who did it without a shadow of a doubt,” he said, “and I’ve intentionally not asked him because I know that he would say ‘yeah, I did it.’ Even though NBC has since said we’re OK, in success I’ll tell everybody.”