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Somebody’s ‘Watching’

Viral video service puts spotlight on WB pilot

Thanks to viral video service YouTube, somebody’s watching the unsold WB pilot “Nobody’s Watching.”

Now the show’s creators are wondering if YouTube could give new life to their project, in much the same way DVDs brought “Family Guy” back to life.

“Watching” was a comedy developed and shot last year for the WB by “Scrubs” creator Bill Lawrence and scribes Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan. Despite being a favorite of the Frog’s younger staffers, the project — produced by NBC U Television Studio — ultimately didn’t get picked up by the network.

Normally, that would be the end of the story for “Watching,” a sort of hybrid series that was part sitcom, part improv reality show.

But about a week ago, the full “Watching” pilot popped up on YouTube for anyone to see. Within a few days, more than 4,000 people had viewed at least part of it. Then, Tuesday night, YouTube moved the clip to its home page — and within hours, the number of views exploded.

By 7 p.m. PDT Wednesday, nearly 100,000 people had clicked on “Watching.”

Lawrence said simply getting the show in front of viewers is vindication of sorts.

“We just like that it’s being seen by people and getting a response,” he said, noting about 80% of the comments posted in response to the pilot have been positive.

“If we can stay over 50%, we’re better than most crappy sitcoms,” he said. “I hope more people watch it and trade it around.”

Actually, Lawrence, Goldman and Donovan are hoping for more than just Internet hits.

While it’s still a long shot, they’re crossing their fingers that enough people check out “Watching” that one of the networks decides to take a second look at the project. Indeed, Lawrence is trying to convince NBC to put the pilot on iTunes, so that potential fans could demonstrate their interest by spending $1.99 on the show.

“Our goal is getting a chance to pitch the show again,” Lawrence said. “We have a lot of ideas about how to make the show better. It’s a good bet that our ideas are at least as good as some of the random pitches the networks are hearing now.”

Peacock is said to be open to the idea of putting the show on iTunes. Just as importantly, NUTS insiders said the studio has given YouTube permission to keep “Watching” on the site.

In the end, the “Watching” crew is hoping YouTube will help them break the usual rules of the traditional pilot system.

Although there are exceptions — for instance, NBC’s summer sudser “Windfall,” which the Peacock snatched up after Fox passed — it’s usually impossible for a failed pilot to find life at another network. That’s because the net that passes on the show doesn’t want to be embarrassed if it works elsewhere, while the net that might pick up the project doesn’t want to fail with something already passed on by another outlet.

Lawrence hopes the fact that the WB has less than three months to live, combined with some YouTube buzz, could help “Watching” get a second chance. It helps that almost all of the “Watching” cast is still available for hire.

“We’re trying to do anything we can to break the pattern,” he said.

Lawrence’s wish is not that far from the model that revived 20th Century Fox TV’s “Family Guy.”

While that show actually made it to air and produced multiple episodes, it was brought back from cancellation after the studio exposed the show to auds via DVD and airings on Cartoon Network.

Audience demand ensured “Guy” was revived — and Wednesday, the show marked the start of production on its 100th episode.

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