Thanks to a free preview of the pilot episode of Fox’s new comedy New Girl on iTunes and a variety of other streaming locations, over 2 million people saw the pilot before the show ever hit the airwaves. It was more than Fox anticipated and left them worried that there would be no audience left when the show actually hit the air – a fear unfounded. New Girl premiered to 10.3 million viewers, well higher than anticipated.

Fox hasn’t had a live action comedy pull in opening numbers like that in over ten years. According to Deadline the network was hoping to increase awareness with the unprecedented move of making the pilot available to view for free two weeks before it premiered. It worked – did it ever work. But as the numbers for the freebie viewers climbed, Fox’s head of marketing, Joe Earley got really nervous:

When we hit a million views, I started to become nervous, when we hit 2 million, I started to break out in a cold sweat.

But the viewers showed up – in droves – with a twenty percent rise from the lead-in show, Fox’s hit Glee. Fox’s gamble paid off big time, and the Zooey Deschanel sitcom brought in numbers that far outstripped what the network had hoped for. What does it all mean?

It could be that New Girl is just a really good show; and the pilot was one of those episodes worth seeing again. Or it could be that the iTunes promotion did what it was meant to do even better than Fox could have imagined. It spread by word of mouth about the show faster than any traditional means of marketing. And if so, we could be looking at a major change in the way networks present new series to the world.

It’s like leaking plot lines, guest stars and clips, only better. People saw the show, people liked the show, people talked about the show. And then people watched the show. Fox has opened a new door here, taking advantage of a new way of raising interest in a show. You can bet we are going to see this become a new trend in the marketing of new shows for the future. As for New Girl, Fox will have to hope that the adorable Miss Deschanel can keep the viewers coming back.

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