PBS Lets Audience Fly Pilots

PBS executives have humbly figured out they don't know what you want to watch. They have an easier way: You decide.

It's hard enough to figure out what TV viewers want and then gain buzz for new shows. That's especially true for new programs that seemingly fly under the radar on PBS.

So, PBS has decided to premiere three science series pilots on New Year's Day via streaming video on Then PBS television stations will run those pilots starting on Jan. 3. Viewers will then vote for their favorite, which will move on to become a new 10-week series projected to debut in fall 2007.

It's kind of smart for PBS, forming its own public focus group online while shows are more or less in their development stage.  This is the kind of TV interactivity the industry has always talked about.

Commercial broadcast networks currently don't let viewers have this kind of public input. That's what high-paying TV executives get paid for--those who make big, tough, and potential career-winning moves on a "Kidnapped" on NBC or a "3 Lbs" on CBS.



Of course, you need to promote the potential shows to get enough people to see them online, or that one airing on PBS' airwaves. You need some fair results. "American Idol" viewers vote online or on their phone because they already have a strong reason to vote.  The rub is getting the same reaction for new shows with little brand recognition.

Still, at least it's a start.  Imagine if ABC were to have done this first with "The Nine" or CW with "The Runaway" before starting those shows up in the fall--luring viewers in promos with the fact that a particular star, director, or producer was attached to these shows? 

Commercials networks already spend millions on development and pilots, so why not open the doors a bit in the process?  TV executives will argue, of course, that development is just that--a process. It is difficult --and costly--to give focus groups a finished product, only to go and refinish it.

Still, PBS may be onto something, figuring out what viewers want first, in a wide-open public forum--making them fly the pilots.

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