Tuned In

NBC Gets Its Web On

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NBC, the nowhere-to-go-but-up network, has a little bit of hope for the fall season. The broadcaster may be fourth in the ratings, but as of this moment, it is first in, um, "buzz." A report by Brandimensions, a branding and market research company, shows that it has three of the top five buzzed-about new fall shows, as measured by online discussion. (Which posts like this one are sure only to reinforce.)  Leading the pack is Aaron Sorkin’s superhyped Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, about a Saturday Night Live-type comedy show; in second is Heroes, a sci-fi drama about ordinary people who discover they have superpowers (which one presumes skews a smidgen toward the Internet-geek crowd); and in fourth is Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, about another SNL-type comedy show. (In third and fifth, respectively, are Jericho, CBS’s nuclear-apocalypse drama, and Six Degrees, an ABC relationship drama from J.J. Abrams of Lost.)

"Buzz" is one of those wonderful terms that sound positive whether they are or not. But is it really a sign of a hit? Yes. No. Both. Last year’s Brandimensions report put My Name Is Earl in first place; a year later, it is a respectable but not runaway hit (the less-buzzworthy Criminal Minds and The Unit had better freshman years). Past preseason studies by other firms found early buzz for a little show by the name of Desperate Housewives–but also for a little show by the name of Joey.

In any case, if NBC’s online bzz-bzz does translate into ratings, it can prrobably thank in part an aggressive campaign of advance "First Look" previews online at nbc.com. It hasn’t slighted returning shows either: today it debuts the first two of ten summer "webisodes," or mini-online episodes, of The Office. (Bad layout and busted links made them a little hard to find this morning at nbc.com, but try this link.) The shorts feature supporting players, from the Dunder-Mifflin accounting department, sleuthing out a $3,000 discrepancy in the company books.

Are they are good as a honest-to-God-TV episode of The Office? Well, as good as a mediocre one, anyway, with typically strong performance from the sitcom’s bench (The schoolmarmishness of Angela Kinsey, as prim bookkeeper Angela, comes over just as well in jerky Web video.) With our fall Office fix two months away, we’ll take it. And if the sitcom comes back as strong or stronger in the fall, expect to see more shows doing summer school next year.

As for the rest of the NBC schedule: well, buzz is better than nothing. But if you don’t back it up with quality, you still get stung.