NBC revives ‘Watching’

Net will also fund viral videos with skein's characters

NBC is resurrecting “Nobody’s Watching,” the quirky 2005 WB comedy pilot that recently found new life on YouTube.com.

Peacock entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly is expected to announce today that he has ordered six scripts of the project following a meeting with “Watching” creators Bill Lawrence, Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan.

Project, about two young sitcom fans who end up in a reality show, is from NBC Universal Television Studio.

In a move that underscores NBC’s desire to plunge into nontraditional comedy development, net has also agreed to fund a series of viral videos featuring the characters from “Watching.” Producers began working on the videos even before the Peacock greenlight, and the first vignettes could hit the Internet by September.

“Part of our pitch for bringing back the show is that, for it to succeed, it needs to become more edgy and blur the lines between reality and fiction,” said Lawrence, who still seemed amazed at the chain of events that brought “Watching” back from the dead.

If it goes to series, “Watching” is also expected to be produced for far less than a normal sitcom, with a budget well under $1 million per half-hour.

Decision to revive “Watching” comes barely a month after a copy of the pilot popped up on video-sharing service YouTube (Daily Variety, June 22).

NBC recently forged a programming alliance with YouTube.com, so it seems likely the net won’t shy away from giving the service some credit for its decision to pick up “Watching.” At the very least, Lawrence was able to generate media interest in a project that never had a high profile, even when it was set up at the WB.

Landing on YouTube.com, and the subsequent media coverage, also helped Lawrence break though the development clutter at the networks. It’s rare that a rejected pilot from one network generates any interest from competing nets, none of whom want to seem as if they’re picking up someone else’s failure.

Lawrence credited NBC for being willing to take a risk on the show, in part because of demand from Webizens.

“If network TV doesn’t embrace the Internet as both a place to launch and test shows but also as a place where shows can live, they’re going to fall further and further behind,” he said.

Toward that end, producers also plan to launch a “Watching” website where fans of the original pilots can give notes on what they liked and didn’t like about the project.

NBC Universal TV is currently negotiating deals to bring back most of the pilot’s original cast, including stars Paul Campbell and Tarran Killam.

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