The crazy thing about television pilots is that most of them never see the light of day. Every year, dozens of pilots are produced for major TV networks.They often cost millions of dollars, star major Hollywood actors, and have novel, if not always original, scripts. Network executives take these pilots, review them, show them to focus groups, and in many cases throw them out with the trash. However, in recent years, online video has given some of these orphan pilots a second life. Fox has announced that “Delirium,” a pilot starring Emma Roberts and based on a popular young adult novel by Lauren Oliver, will get just such a second chance.
Fox passed on the “Delirium” pilot back in May for reasons that haven’t been disclosed, but now fans will get a limited opportunity to see what could have been. The already-produced pilot, directed by Rodrigo Garcia of the WIGS YouTube channel, will be available for streaming on Hulu until July 14. Fox is hoping that a limited engagement of three weeks will be enough to spark interest from fans of Oliver’s novel. Such a built-in audience might be enough to bring the currently dead-on-arrival series back to life.
Other networks have experimented with airing pilots online before. After some wrangling with the network, Sarah Silverman was able to bring the pilot of her NBC show “Susan 313” to the web. Amazon typically tests out all its pilots online as part of its decision making process, allowing fans to vote with their views on which should be picked up. It’s a novel strategy that puts shows that have already been bought and paid for in front of viewers, rather than leaving the final decision entirely in the hands of network executives.
Television’s major networks have been slower to adopt the practice of airing pilots digitally — executives perhaps fearing that their tastemaking sensibilities would be undermined if viewers had a hand in deciding which pilots live and die. Still, it seems wasteful not to put a product of so much effort and money in front of an audience when the cost of doing so is practically nothing. If Fox’s experiment with “Delirium” pays off, that may change. Digital video is the fastest growing segment of television’s overall viewership, and strategies that cater to a digital audience are likely to become more common if TV networks want to compete with web-based content.
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