Stephen Speicher contributes The Clicker, an opinion column on entertainment and technology:
When, in 2004, NBC Universal Television greenlit the dangerously named "Nobody's Watching" script for further development, it's safe to say they probably lacked the vision to fully grasp the big ball of irony to follow. Up until a month or so ago, the show's only, er, accomplishment was to poke a little fun at NBC Universal's current CEO, Jeff Zucker with the show's sleazy WB character, Jeff Tucker. Now, however, after 2 years and 2 potential networks "Nobody's Watching" is, well, being watched.
On which network will you find this somewhat clever and certainly up-to-today's-sitcom-standard television show? Is it on NBC? That would be a good guess as it did rise out of NBC's TV farm system, but no; it's not on NBC. Is it on WB? Again no, despite WB efforts to put the show into motion after NBC passed on it, it's not on the WB either. The "Nobody's Watching" wide-scale launch happened on what I like to call The YouTube Network (or 'The YT' for short).
That's right; television history was made this month when a big-budget, network-driven pilot was abandoned and subsequently surfaced on The YT to rave reviews. Since then the show has been viewed by over 125k viewers. Are those great numbers? No -- of course not. Even poor performing network shows will be viewed by well-over 2 million viewers. With that said, "the little show that could" has managed to accumulate those numbers with zero dollars spent. Likewise, the infrastructure for this type of endeavor is somewhat lacking on YouTube. Shows must bubble up and gain traction before any real numbers can be achieved.
Now, make no mistake, the likelihood of this show rising from the heaps and living to the tender age of two (err... episodes) is about as likely as Stephen Colbert replacing Tony Snow as the current administration's Press Secretary, but really that's not the point. This experiment shows that people will watch, comment on, and enjoy pilots on the web in a way that today's traditional broadcast systems won't allow. What's missing is the networks taking the next (obvious) step: instead of spending multiple years and countless dollars trying to determine what to show the viewing public, why not let the audience decide? Put the pilots on the internet before you make the decision. Not only does this give a more accurate assessment of what people might watch, it has the potential to dramatically speed up the decision process.
Imagine a world where people (bored by the vacuous summer-schedule) spent time perusing the potentials. Shows would be allowed a little more leeway to live (and die) on their own merits. Yes, it's true that by the time it's time to air the final product on network television it might have already been seen by a large portion of its audience, but is that so bad? Isn't that a problem you'd like to have? Surely networks would trade a "rerun" episode for a pre-built fan base.
Yet, despite their best efforts, the entrenched powers behind modern broadcasting just cannot get their heads around the potential of the internet. This is evident at every turn. Whether it be the pulling of the wildly-popular "Lazy Sunday" clip from YouTube (and then later re-releasing in a harder-to-find corner of the NBC site) or the treatment of the internet as a dumping ground for dead projects, the current regime views the internet as, at best, additional revenue. More often than not, the internet is considered a nuisance.
It's time for networks to allow the internet to take its place in the front of the pack. The internet is a fast-moving, quick-paced sports car, and it's currently sucking in the diesel fumes of the Blue Bird school bus that is broadcast television. Note to development houses: let's open this baby up and see what it can do!
If you have comments or suggestions for future columns feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.