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Comic-Con Previews Create Critic’s Conundrum

NBC announced that it will air the pilot for its new thriller/mystery series “The Event” in its entirety at Comic-Con later this month, which raises an interesting conundrum from a critical standpoint.

Variety’s policy on the feature side is that when a movie is shown publicly, it’s fair game for review. But it’s become increasingly common for networks to showcase pilots at Comic-Con or make them available online well before they are scheduled to premiere on TV.

The motivation is obvious: To tap into a potentially influential audience and generate buzz for their programming. But if we run a review then, the analysis risks being awfully stale by the time the series officially sees the light of day. Moreover, some of these programs are still undergoing changes. And finally, there’s always the chance of seeing additional episodes before a premiere if you wait until the fall, which certainly helps in critiquing a heavily serialized project.

Frankly, I’m not sure what the answer is, especially when only a few thousand people tops will see the show at Comic-Con, a pittance compared to the audience of millions (at least, NBC hopes) that could potentially greet it in the fall.

Of course, the cautionary flag here is that networks have previewed plenty of series in similar fashion — including ABC’s “Pushing Daisies” and NBC’s season premiere of “Heroes” — that went on to cancellation despite these screenings. This dovetails with the notion I advanced in my latest column about the false positive that can be registered by exposing programs to such fans, who aren’t always the most representative audience.

At this point, our policy will likely be to hold back on formal reviews until closer to the formal premiere dates, though it’s possible we’ll blog some opinions about previewed shows early. But honestly, it’s a brave new world in this arena, so we’re still open to suggestions.

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