Tuned In

Attack of the Undead TV Shows!

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Like the accidentally-frozen pizza-delivery guy who is its hero, Futurama has been revived in another era by technology. Only in this case, the technology is DVD and cable, not cryogenics. The undersung Matt Groening cartoon, cancelled by Fox in 2003, will air 13 new episodes on Comedy Central starting in 2008, after having enjoyed healthy postmortem DVD sales and having been one of the best-rated shows in reruns on Adult Swim.

As in Futurama, where the preserved head-in-a-jar of Richard Nixon rises to power, we may be entering an era in which new shows spring incredibly to life after being killed dead. Family Guy, of course, followed a similar route to come back bigger than ever on Fox. But for Mitch Hurwitz’s refusal, Arrested Development would have come back on Showtime. And right now we may be seeing the weirdest show revival yet: resurrection by YouTube.

The producers of Scrubs and Family Guy  created a sitcom pilot last year with a strange, meta premise: two guys from Ohio get a chance to create their own sitcom, while having their efforts taped as a reality show. The WB (now about to merge with UPN into The CW), passed on the pilot, called, appropriately enough, Nobody’s Watching.

Rather than let it go to waste, somebody decided to post the pilot to YouTube (link is to the first of three parts), and suddenly, well, somebody was watching. The show generated tens of thousands of hits a few days after YouTube put it on its homepage, and suddenly, there’s so much buzz around the show that its makers are considering selling it on iTunes and pitching it to another network.

Judge the show for yourself, but it’s better, and certainly more adventurous, than a lot of sitcoms that make it on air. Nobody’s Watching is not only about sitcom conventions and cliches but plays with them cleverly—the fictitious network, for instance, makes the producers work in front of a studio audience, who end up being a kind of  Greek chorus. That said, it’s also a little forced and thinks it’s more clever than it is. (YouTube viewers may agree, since about three times as many people watched the first third of it online than watched the second or the third.)

The show is probably getting a bit of knee-jerk praise, from the halo of having been rejected by Those Idiots Who Run TV. In 2001, TNT produced a drama, Breaking News, about a cable-news network, which the network shelved during a corporate reorganization. TV critics suspected it had been killed because it hit too close to home at CNN, which was part of what was then AOL Time Warner, along with TNT (and TIME magaazine)–they protested that corporate stooges smothered a great show to protect themselves. In 2002, Bravo bought the reruns, aired them, and revealed that it was actually a cliched, preachy snooze that made The West Wing look humble. You probably don’t remember it, nor should you.

All that said, I hope Nobody’s Watching gets a second chance, if only to encourage more producers and studios to give the Internet audience a look at the kind of things that don’t make it on air, and compare them with what does. Hell, in fact, why spend millions on focus groups and studies when you could throw some pilots on YouTube and have the audience weigh in, American Idol-style? Clearly you wouldn’t lack for volunteers. On the Internet, it turns out, Everybody’s Watching.