News and analysis
August 25, 2014

Fox Releases Series Pilot Early After Charity Goal Is Met

Annette Brown/FOX

Brian Bradley, Nolan Sotillo, Griffin Gluck and Charlie Rowe in "Red Band Society"

People eager for an early peek at a new Fox television show called the "Red Band Society" responded to an unusual challenge by the network: Help promote the show by sharing related content at least 100,000 times and Fox will make the show available online before its official TV debut on September 17.

Fox also said it would donate $100,000 total to five charities if fans met the "flock-to-unlock" goal, which they did. The show was made available online nearly three weeks ahead of its TV debut.

The recipient organizations are the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Ryan Seacrest Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and Teen Cancer America.

The sneak-peek release helps FOX build buzz and create an online community, says Jason Clark, senior vice president for publicity and corporate communications. Promoting the show with a charitable element also complements the show itself, which is about teenagers living in a hospital. Mr. Clark says Fox decided "right when the show was picked up" that the promotional campaign would have a charity tie-in. "We always knew it would need some sort of pro-social element," he says.

Having five nonprofits on board may also help Fox sell the show to those wary of the weighty topic it addresses. "One of the fears is that the show is not your doctor, cop, or medical show. It is a unique topic and a unique idea," says Brian Steinberg, senior TV editor for Variety. An implicit seal of approval from the nonprofit world "perhaps makes it a little more palatable for folks who might be questioning it."

But should the nonprofit world offer such approval?

Simon Davies, executive director of Teen Cancer America, says his organization vetted the show before agreeing to a partnership. The series producers toured one the Teen Cancer America’s facilities in Los Angeles last year and later invited a teenage constituent to meet with the writers. That, along with an advanced viewing of the series pilot, sold Mr. Davies on the show.

"I don’t particularly like to have that sick-kid image that some charities will trade on," he says. "I think it’s important to show the spirit of young people in the face of adversity. And I think that’s what this program does very well."