Rejected shows find a new life online

Networks used to burn off unsold pilots during the summer. Now, TV’s rejects are popping up on the Internet.

In recent weeks, at least four failed pilots from the 2005-06 development season have ended up online on services such as YouTube and Break.com. Inspired by the saga of “Nobody’s Watching” — the year-old WB pilot that found new life after popping up on YouTube (Daily Variety, July 21) — interested parties seem intent on getting their work out to viewers, one way or another.

That has sent studios scrambling, forcing them to quickly decide whether to let the shows live online, where they might build a cult following, or ask the services to yank them. For the most part, studios seem to be choosing the latter option.

On Thursday, for example, 20th Century Fox TV found out that someone had uploaded a copy of “The Adventures of Big Handsome Guy and His Little Friend” to Break.com and a few other services (but not, oddly enough, YouTube). Within hours, it began sending out letters demanding the show be removed., and issued a statement promising to get to the bottom of the leak.

“We take the protection of our intellectual property very seriously and have launched an investigation into this matter,” the studio said. “We will take any steps necessary to zealously protect our ownership of this program.”

In the case of “Big Handsome Guy,” which was produced for Fox Broadcasting, 20th might not want to do anything to jeopardize the pilot’s small chances of eventually getting picked up. Net asked the show’s exec producers for a second script, leaving open the possibility of a midseason order later this summer.

Break.com Keith Richman claims he had no idea “Big Handsome Guy” was a 20th pilot, but said he complied with the studio’s demand to remove the pilot as soon as he got it. Site hosted the video for three weeks, even making a featured selection starting July 29.

Richman says the first half of the pilot was streamed 250,000 times –more eyeballs than watch some cable shows.

“The comment boards were remarkably positive,” he said. “The indiciation I got is the this is a show people want to watch.”

“Big Handsome Guy” has some company on the Net.

Now showing on YouTube: “If You Lived Here You’d be Home Now,” a CBS Par-produced comedy pilot for Fox from scribes Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen. More than 7000 people have watched all or part of the pilot since it was uploaded on June 12.

“The Angriest Man in Suburbia,” from Sony and producer Gavin Polone, also popped up on YouTube not long ago. But only 150 or so people got a chance to see the full pilot before it was yanked; the first few minutes remain available for viewing.

And Touchstone’s “Our Thirties,” from former NBC Entertainment prexy Warren Littlefield, found its way on to YouTube three days ago. Not long after, it was pulled by the video streaming service.

“We protect our intellectual property rights vigorously and we take reports of suspected infringement seriously,” a Touchstone rep said., declining to comment on what she called “pending or potential antipiracy investigations or actions.”

Warner Bros. TV also isn’t talking about a pilot leak of another sort that took place recently. Aaron Sorkin’s much-anticipated NBC drama “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” was viewed more than 12,000 times last week before the studio caught wind of it –thanks to a tip from series star Matthew Perry, according to insiders.

Interestingly, “Studio 60″ is widely available right now to anybody with a Netflix subscription, thanks to a deal NBC brokered last month.

Another WBTV pilot, the CW actioner “Aquaman,” is also easily accessible — but for a price. Warners decided to sell the show on iTunes for $1.99 a pop early last week. not long after clips of the show became available on YouTube.

It’s turned out to be a smart move: Insiders say more than 15,000 copies of the pilot have been sold, with “Aquaman” the most-downloaded video on iTunes for more than a week (it’s now No. 2).

The “Aquaman” downloads are legal and legit, however. Most of the other net leaks aren’t, and studio insiders warn that producers or talent who leak pilots could face penalties.

But it seems unlikely studios will risk alienating creators, especially since most pilots simply die after they’re rejected by networks. If anything, having consumers respond positively to a show rejected by a network only serves to validate the studio’s decision to take a risk on a project.

And while “Nobody’s Watching” has generated much hype for its YouTube resurrection, it’s hardly the first pilot to find a life on the service.

Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel’s cult classic “Lookwell” has been seen more than 50,000 times, while “Awesometown” — the Fox sketch comedy pilot starring “Saturday Night Live’s” Andy Samberg — has been streamed over 225,000 times.

Then there’s Jack Black and Ben Stiller’s “Heat Vision and Jack,” a long lost, much buzzed about pilot from the 1990s. It’s as been streamed more than 329,000 times since going live on YouTube in March.

(Ben Fritz contributed to this report).

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