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The Salt Lake Tribune Television Column: Television: Show Pilot Leaks Can Build Up Buzz, Backfire

June 23, 2008

By Vince Horiuchi, The Salt Lake Tribune

Jun. 23–In the past week or two, three upcoming fall pilots were leaked on the Internet.

My first thought was: Were they uploaded by nefarious people who had early screeners of the shows, or were they purposefully placed on the Web by the networks to generate all-important buzz before their debut?

Trust me, it’s not beneath network executives to secretly release a so-called top secret pilot onto the Internet only to deny they did it the next minute.

One of them already is benefitting from the extra exposure. Fox’s “Fringe,” by producer J.J. Abrams of “Lost” fame, found its way on the Net last week, and it’s been amassing good word of mouth.

It’s about an FBI agent and a scientist who investigate spooky happenings, an “X-Files”-ish thriller that is the kind of genre piece that would thrive in an Internet audience. The pilot, which I did not download and see, is said to have great production value.

HBO’s “True Blood” also made its way to the Internet last week. It’s a new drama/thriller from Alan Ball, the creator of “Six Feet Under,” about a race of vampires co-existing with humans in the Louisiana Bayou.

The vamps are able to live with the humans, who know of their existence, because they can live off of a Japanese-made synthetic blood named True Blood. Anna Paquin (“X-Men”) stars.

Most recently, ABC’s most anticipated series, “Life on Mars,” was leaked on file-sharing sites. But unlike “Fringe,” the talk has hardly been buzz-worthy.

The show, which was adapted by producer David E. Kelley (“Boston Legal”) from a British series, is a science fiction drama about a police detective who winds up in the 1970s where he’s forced to investigate crimes without the benefit of high-tech equipment like DNA analysis and computers.

Word is the pilot is not good. Kelley has left the project after writing and producing the first episode, and the show was moved from Los Angeles to New York and will have some major cast changes.

It’s not new for fall pilots to land on the Internet months before their television debuts. Series like NBC’s “Joey” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” have been leaked before. It’s becoming an almost annual ritual in the Internet age.

The networks say they do their part to try to prevent their early release. In some cases, they don’t give out early DVD screeners of the pilot and only host industry screenings to prevent piracy.

But positive word of mouth is as valuable as gold in the television industry, and I have no doubt the networks are using everything in their power to generate as much talk about a new show as they can muster — even if it means resorting to the kind of Internet piracy they claim to abhor.

Vince Horiuchi’s column appears Mondays and Fridays. He can be reached at vince@sltrib.com or 801-257-8607. For more television insights, visit Horiuchi’s blog, “The Village Vidiot,” at blogs.sltrib.com/tv/. Send comments about this column to livingeditor@sltrib.com.

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