NBC Universal made a huge fuss in the past few weeks about wanting to raise the price on episodes of their hit television shows on iTunes. Instead of the $1.99 purchase price iTunes currently offers television shows at, the network wanted to bump the price up to $4.99. Apple refused and NBC walked away from iTunes, taking Heroes, Battlestar Galacticia, and The Office over to Amazon’s digital download service. But now the network is headed in a slightly surprising direction – offering free downloads.

That’s right – instead of bumping the price point from two bucks to five, NBC is going to make a limited amount of their shows available for a free download. The idea is that the freebies will serve as bait to hook more people over to their new “NBC Direct” service which will compete directly with iTunes.

Now, there are a lot of cons to the free downloads. First of all, they are only available for a week after the episode has aired. The downloads will feature embedded advertising that can’t be skipped over, according to The Associated Press and the digital file will expire seven days after the episode’s air date. So, if you miss that key episode of Heroes, you need to recognize that quickly, download the show, and watch it within a week of the initial airing – while putting up with the same level of advertising you’ll watch on television. Oh – and you have to watch it through a proprietary viewer with filtering software to make sure your episodes are legal. Not a lot of convenience here.

Shows being made part of this test model include Heroes, The Office, Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and new shows Life and The Bionic Woman.

The new “NBC Direct” service is expected to roll out in October, with expansions coming through the following months to allow people to watch episodes on portable devices or on Macs – apparently NBC’s grudge isn’t strong enough to completely ignore Apple’s market. Eventually they expect to add high-definition shows as well.

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