NBC gives ‘Awake’ an early-rising preview

For the second time in about a month, NBC has decided to make the entire pilot episode for one of its new dramas available through non-traditional means weeks in advance of its broadcast debut. In mid-January, it was “Smash.” Now, it’s “Awake,” which won’t air on NBC until Thursday, March 1 at 10 p.m., but is up on NBC.com, Hulu (as embedded below) and at least some cable On Demand systems. (Though it is not, as of this writing, up on iTunes the way the “Smash” pilot was.) 

Though these non-broadcast means of distribution have been available for years now, there was a belief that if you make an episode available in advance, it would damage the premiere ratings. Then FOX made the “New Girl” pilot available on pretty much every platform before it actually aired on television, and that show had one of the most successful launches of the fall, and now other networks are dipping a toe into these still-uncharted waters.

So far, the shows chosen make sense as test cases. “New Girl” had a star who wasn’t hugely famous and who could be polarizing among those who did know who she was. “Smash” is an adult-oriented musical about a form of popular entertainment that’s not nearly as culturally-dominant as it used to be. And “Awake” is, as I’ve written before, a show with a terrific pilot, but also a complicated premise – cop Jason Isaacs survives a car crash with his family and begins living in two parallel lives: one where his wife survived and his son died, and one where the opposite occurred – that’s raised questions both about how NBC can market it and how sustainable it is long-term. Given those questions, NBC might as well put it out there now in hopes that people are impressed enough by the pilot to get some good word-of-mouth going. The odds are stacked against the show just by virtue of being an NBC drama that doesn’t air after “The Voice” (and even “Smash” took a notable dip in the ratings from week 1 to week 2), but at least they’re trying.

Conveniently, NBC sent out the first four episodes to critics, and I’m looking forward to watching them soon to see how well producers Kyle Killen (“Lone Star”) and Howard Gordon (“Homeland,” “24”) pull it off. In the meantime, you can watch the pilot right here. I’m eager to here reactions to it from non-critics. Did you like it? Was it easy to follow as it shifted from one reality to the other? If this episode – and the relative amount of time devoted to Isaacs working cases, visiting his shrinks and dealing with his family – is reflective of the balance going forward, would you keep on watching? Or are you skeptical that they can keep this balancing act going week after week?