Judging by views, the undisputed king of YouTube these days is Zinedine Zidane, the head-butting French soccer star. Judging by TV deals, its undisputed beneficiary is a red-carded sitcom.
Nobody's Watching, back in the game after its never-aired pilot popped up on the video Website last month, will be revived by NBC in a series of new made-for-the-Internet episodes, the network has announced.
Additionally, NBC has ordered scripts with an eye toward making the show a prime-time player. The moves mark the first time a crashed network pilot has gotten back off the ground thanks to the Web.
"This comedy pilot has generated a life of its own, and we are intrigued by its potential to develop into a series," NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly said in a statement. "Sometimes, if you show it, they will come."
Speaking to TV critics Friday in Pasadena, California, Reilly said work on the webisodes was already underway.
"I think you'll see stuff hitting the [Internet] in the next month," Reilly said.
No decision has been made as to whether the pilot, still readily available on YouTube, will air on the old-fashioned tube, Reilly said.
As seen in the pilot, Nobody's Watching is about two TV-literate friends from Ohio who are moved by the WB to Hollywood to create their own sitcom--and, in turn, star in a reality show about their adventure. The featured network is the WB because that's where the comedy, from Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence, was supposed to debut last fall. One problem: The show didn't make the schedule.
"Who was going to pick up a show that the lowly WB had rejected?" Lawrence said in the New York Times earlier this month.
The answer for Nobody's Watching was nobody. Even the WB itself was going out of business.
Then on June 9, the Nobody's Watching pilot was uploaded to YouTube. "It's very funny, very different and deserves to be seen," the poster identified as "impytherap" wrote.
Soon, the pilot, cut into three clips, each about nine minutes long, was being seen. By late last week, stars Paul Campbell and Taran Killam were on Carson Daly's Last Call couch with Lawrence hearing Reilly announce, via speakerphone, that NBC wanted a piece of the action.
Technically, NBC owns the action. Its sibling, NBC Universal Television Studio, produced the pilot. Reilly denied that the network had anything to do with posting Nobody's Watching on YouTube, with which it recently entered a partnership. (In the Times, Lawrence said he knows who did it, but declined to name names.)
Among the challenges NBC faces in restarting the production is reassembling a cast now familiar to YouTube users. The only names Reilly has mentioned as locks are Campbell, who was killed off Battlestar Galactica last season, and Killam, who turned up on an episode of How I Met Your Mother but, per IMDb.com, has a clear calendar.
The availability of Paul Adelstein, who played WB exec Jeff Tucker (sounds like NBC exec Jeff Zucker), may be another matter. Adelstein turned up a lot on Fox's Prison Break.
"We're hoping he gets killed off," Lawrence joked to the Times.
Unfortunately for Lawrence, Adelstein's character, Agent Kellerman, looks very much alive in Fox publicity photos for Prison Break's upcoming second season.
Another question facing NBC is, outside of the viral video universe, whether there is sufficient demand for Nobody's Watching.
"The audience required to make a hit on network television even in the 21st century...it's a lot, lot higher that would constitute a hit on YouTube," professor Robert J. Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, said Monday.
Indeed, last season NBC canceled two comedies, Joey and Four Kings, that averaged more than 7 million viewers each. By comparison, the first part of Nobody's Watching's pilot had generated some 420,000 views as of Monday; the second part, 190,000; and the third part, 167,000. Even on YouTube, Nobody's Watching doesn't have showy numbers--not compared to the 2.7 million who have watched a clip of the Zidane head butt this month, or the nearly 3 million who have watched a parody of Zidane head butt.
Accordingly, Reilly is not billing Nobody's Watching as the savior of ratings-starved NBC. Instead, Reilly is billing Nobody's Watching as an "experiment."
"Win, lose or draw," Reilly said, "these are the kind of things we've got to try."