How 'The Unusuals' Producer Builds a Fan Base: YouTube

ABC's Newbie Cop Drama Bets Web Buzz Can Get It to Season Two

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NEW YORK ( -- Can the web help ABC's quirky new NYC cop drama "The Unusuals" get a second season? Producer and creator Noah Hawley is working all the online angles he can to build interest and audience. He's got just a few weeks to convince ABC the show deserves a fall pickup.

'The Unusuals'
'The Unusuals' Credit: ABC
Halfway through its first 10-episode run, "The Unusuals" isn't exactly what you'd call a hit, at least not yet. With the past few episodes hovering around 5 million or so viewers, its survival this fall is by no means assured. Rabid online fans helped "Jericho" get a second shot on CBS, even if their campaign didn't get more people to watch on TV. But building a fan base online -- an outlet for show enthusiasts -- is considered a prerequisite for a successful TV show.

Thanks to ABC's recent deal with YouTube, Mr. Hawley is free to post clips, webisodes and outtakes on the service.

Doing it 'guerrilla-style'
New shows don't get the kind of online promotion that, say, NBC lavishes on "Heroes," so Mr. Hawley and his band of editors and YouTube marketing guru Brad O'Farrell have been doing most of it on their own. That is, when they're not running afoul of bureaucracies at ABC and Sony Pictures Television.

"A lot of returning shows with bigger budgets are doing it through the corporation, but we're doing it guerrilla-style, because it's pretty important to building a fan base," Mr. Hawley said.

Initially, Mr. O'Farrell, who is also syndication manager for web studio MyDamnChannel, started uploading clips of the show to YouTube before the show's premiere in April. One problem: that was before ABC's formal deal with the video-sharing service, which complicated matters.

But before ABC brass but the kibosh on the project, ABC's YouTube deal was announced, and even though it won't be implemented until the show's run is over, ABC execs allowed "The Unusuals" to slide, with a few conditions.

Messrs. Hawley and O'Farrell were free to use YouTube for promotion, but ABC insisted they turn off international viewing, comments and video responses, the most potent tools used to build buzz and views. Disabling international views actually dings U.S. viewing by making it less likely a video will make it to YouTube's home page; video comments help videos move up in the ranks by tapping the conversational aspect of the service.

Education in bureaucracy
A first-time show runner, Mr. Hawley is getting an education in working with large media bureaucracies. "Once you go into business with two giant corporations, it becomes a lot harder to do this stuff," he said. "You have to get it all approved. They want to know about it in advance."

Right now, the pilot trailer has 26,000 views -- nothing that would push the needle on TV ratings but better than nothing. The editors have also attempted to churn out viral clips. The show made its debut on the first day of Passover, so Mr. Hawley and his editors put together a clip of a webisode, "The Unusuals Passover," as well as a remix of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" with show clips.

Assistant editors splice together outtakes to create "sketch" comedy clips to seed online before an episode airs, such as "The Murder Store," "Crime Slut" and "Why Not Take The Bus?"

Running afoul of Facebook policy
Messrs. Hawley and O'Farrell created a Facebook fan page and tried to create pages for each of the characters, but that ran afoul of Facebook's policy against fictional profiles.

In addition to Facebook, YouTube and other video sites, Mr. Hawley, Mr. O'Farrell and some of the actors started communicating on Twitter, in character, in an attempt to continue story lines outside the episodes.

Will it work? Mr. Hawley acknowledged there may not be much to be done in the next few weeks, but tending online communities now could pay dividends if the show gets a chance this fall.

"We're laying the groundwork," he said. "Our DVR numbers show the biggest percentage gain of any show on ABC, and the third-highest on network TV."

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