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Somebody's Watching 'Nobody's Watching'

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In the spring of 2005, "Scrubs" creator Bill Lawrence co-wrote a pilot for The WB called "Nobody's Watching." It's about two TV-obsessed guys from Ohio who get a one-in-a-million shot to create a sitcom for the network -- while living and working on sitcom sets, in front of cameras a live audience, as network executives manipulated their lives from behind the scenes.

The show received a lot of positive buzz during the development season, and NBC Universal TV, which produced it, was happy with the finished product. Lawrence says The WB even took the step of flying him and co-writers Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan to New York for the upfronts -- which, not unreasonably, led the trio to believe their show was getting picked up.

It wasn't, though. The WB went with "Twins" instead as its lone new comedy for the fall of 2005, tossing "Nobody's Watching" aside.

Cut to 13 months later. The WB will cease to exist in about 10 weeks, but thanks to a twist of fate driven by the viral-video site YouTube, "Nobody's Watching" may be resurrected.

"I've gotten to the point where we've got enough offers and inquiries that I'd actually bet a small -- I wouldn't bet tons of money, but I'd bet small amounts of money that we're going to get to do this again," Lawrence says.

Someone posted the "Nobody's Watching" pilot in three parts on YouTube last month (Lawrence says he knows who did but won't reveal the person's name "because it could still bite him on the ass"). As of late Wednesday more than 330,000 people had streamed part one, and more than 100,000 had checked out the rest of the pilot. What's more, maybe 80 percent of the 1,300 or so people who've commented on the show had nice things to say.

That kind of response flies in the face of what Lawrence says was one of The WB's primary reasons for not ordering "Nobody's Watching": It tested poorly with focus groups.

"The WB got really hooked on the fact that the show was too high-concept. They had the testing information to back it up, and it was a big creative concern that it was hard for people to buy into such a high concept," he says.

Yet even the negative comments about "Nobody's Watching" on YouTube say nothing about its being confusing (the reality-show element of the pilot doubles as a good device to explain the premise).

"I just don't think there's any correlation between 20 or 30 people who got suckered in, for 50 bucks, into sitting in a room and answering leading questions about a TV show ... and what the TV-watching public really watches and cares about," he says.

Lawrence does say that he and his co-writers actually got some good notes from the YouTube feedback, which they'll incorporate should they get the chance to reshoot the pilot.

"There was a through-line [of criticism] from people who liked the show, and some that didn't, that for a kind of cool, hip show that's supposed to be kind of loose and improv-y, and to be tweaking sitcoms, there were chunks that felt overly scripted that turned them off," Lawrence says. "When we get to remake this, that's one thing we're gonna do. We'll make sure it doesn't seem overly slick or scripted and let the actors, who we did let improv and riff a little bit, do that a little bit more."

"Nobody's Watching" stars Taran Killam ("MADtv") and Paul Campbell ("Battlestar Galactica") as the best friends living their sitcom dream. "Prison Break's" Paul Adelstein plays network executive Jeff Tucker -- an unsubtle nod to Lawrence's NBC boss, Jeff Zucker. Lauren Bittner, Mircea Monroe and Bob Clendenin, a recurring "Scrubs" player, also star.

Lawrence thinks the cast would be available to reshoot the show -- Campbell was even signed to a holding deal with NBC on the basis of the pilot -- although getting Adelstein could be a little tricky, given his commitment to "Prison Break." "We've just got to cross our fingers and hope he gets killed," Lawrence jokes.

The oddest thing about Lawrence's "Nobody's Watching" ride may be that if The WB still existed, NBC Universal probably wouldn't have let the pilot remain on YouTube, for fear of damaging future relations with the network. Since that's not an issue, the studio hasn't objected.

The success of "Nobody's Watching" on YouTube might also removes the specter of failure that previously surrounded it; networks are generally loath to pick up their rivals' castoffs. Lawrence says NBC Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly is among those who've asked for a meeting about the show.

Lawrence is clearly delighted at the second chance, which he compares to developing a stage show: "If you look at plays, they workshop them and keep working on them and working on them, trying to have the best production they can. With TV shows, you shoot your pilot, and once it starts you've got a week [to make changes]. And at the end, it's either going to be on, or dead forever.

"To get a chance to take something I thought was pretty good and work on it more, and hopefully make it funnier and smooth out some of the stuff that sucked -- I think it could end up being a good show."
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See the "Nobody's Watching" pilot on YouTube.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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