Have you seen the pilot for Fox's Fringe yet? If not, you have nobody to blame but yourself.
Apparently somebody involved with the production "leaked" (as in, illegally uploaded) the pilot to the Internet and it is already building a big fan base there, even though the online version is not a finished copy.
Such posting is the big fear of studio and network publicists throughout the television industry in this era of runaway digital technology: When they send out DVD screeners to critics and journalists, they run the risk that one or more of us dirty rotten scoundrels will upload it to the Net. So they watermark them, or make critics sign menacing legal documents, or in the case of ABC they stream them for a limited time on a locked Web site (which means critics who already spend too much time at their computers every day no longer watch as many advance episodes of ABC programs as they once did).
It is also assumed that one or more deranged critics will attempt to mass produce screeners and sell them on eBay or Craig's List or somewhere. As if. Seriously, what kind of idiot would risk his or her reputation in the media and his or her access to future materials from networks - not to mention legal trouble - by so flagrantly violating the understood agreement between publicists and journalists?
Anyway, Fox can't blame critics for the Fringe "leak," because to date the network has not sent any screeners of this pilot to the press.
"There's a version of the pilot that lots of people have been watching on the Internet," one critic told J.J. Abrams and the other four producers of Fringe at a TCA press conference for the show.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Abrams smiled. He would later admit otherwise.
"It couldn't have been us because we didn't get [screeners] sent to us," the critic continued.
As laughter erupted throughout the room Abrams good-naturedly replied, "I wasn't blaming you."
"Could you talk a little bit about the difference between what [critics saw on a closed-circuit screening at the Beverly Hilton Hotel] and what people have been watching online?" the critic asked.
Abrams referred the request to fellow executive producer Bryan Burk.
"We didn't put the pilot online," Burk began. "We hate putting anything out there until it's done, and that's really the reason why you guys didn't get any advance copies."
"Worked well," the critic smirked. The room erupted once again.
Then Burk and Abrams both explained a few very minor differences between the "leaked" version and the closed-circuit version.
Abrams returned to the topic later in the session. When the show was "leaked" online, he revealed, "It was something we all freaked out about, especially once it got to that peer-to-peer thing where it was just unstoppable. The good news is that the response has been much more positive than not, especially for something that wasn't completed yet."