"The Adventures of Big Handsome Guy and His Little Friend," a comedy series passed over by Fox Broadcasting for the fall schedule, has mysteriously popped up on at least three different viral-video Web sites.
The emergence of "Handsome" marks the second known TV pilot left over from the 2005-06 development season to resurrect itself from unknown auspices. "Nobody's Watching," a comedy rejected by WB Network, resurfaced on YouTube last month, and generated enough buzz to prompt producer NBC Universal to pick up the series.
Upon discovering the pilot online Thursday, "Handsome" production company 20th Century Fox Television issued a statement indicating plans to track down the source of the leak.
"It has come to our attention that the pilot episode of 'Handsome' was posted on the Internet without the knowledge and consent of 20th Century Fox Television, its sole owner," it said. "We take the protection of our intellectual property very seriously and have launched an investigation into this matter. We will take any steps necessary to zealously protect our ownership of this program."
The studio also issued cease-and-desist letters to the offending sites, some of which have since removed "Handsome."
Fox declined comment, deferring to 20th Century Fox Television. Both are units of News Corp.
"Handsome" has reappeared in the form of two clips that splits the pilot in half on viral-video sites including Break.com, Vidking.com and Slubber.com. "Handsome" does not appear on YouTube, the most popular of the category.
A brief, popular run
The source of the footage could not be determined, though it is likely a copy of one of the untold number of video cassettes or DVDs the studio circulates within the industry during development season. The culprit covered the numbered code that appears onscreen for such copies with a black bar.
On Break.com, one of a handful of such sites below YouTube that amasses about 1 million unique visitors a day, "Handsome" is.
Break.com CEO Keith Richman concluded that about 250,000 streams of the first half of "Handsome" were seen since the clip was uploaded Saturday, and less than half of that number watched the second half of the pilot.
"I think it was enormously popular, and not just evidenced by the number used," Richman said. "People don't typically come to our site to watch long-form entertainment--yet--but a meaningful number sat through the first and second halves in their entirety."
On the site's comments section, Break.com viewers posted mostly positive reviews of the pilot. "That was kick ass, wanna see more of it," said an amateur reviewer.
Given the fortunate fate that befell "Watching," which NBC greenlighted, many industry observers have been saying it was only a matter of time before more passed-over pilots saw the light of day online. "I'm surprised we haven't seen a lot more copycats, and a lot sooner," said one agent who wished to remain anonymous.
However, there is one big difference between "Handsome" and "Watching": Fox declined to put the series on its fall schedule but had extended its option to pick up the series by December. The studio had even ordered an additional script from executive producers Josh Sternin and Jeff Ventimilia.
Reached for comment, Sternin and Ventimilia professed their innocence. "We didn't want to distribute unethically or illegally," Sternin said. "But hopefully it will help us."
Based on a short film of the same name, "Handsome" was written by and stars Hayes MacArthur and Jason Winer as mismatched best friends with distinctly different viewpoints on life. Winer's representatives at talent firm International Creative Management said their client had nothing to do with the leak; MacArthur's representatives at William Morris could not be reached.
Another junked pilot also is getting many viewers online, though by legally authorized means: Warner Bros. allowed Apple's iTunes to sell "Aquaman," which was intended for the CW Television Network and currently is ranked No. 2 on the service's "Today's Top TV Shows" list.