Fox's 'Fringe' springs a leak

Despite precautions, anticipated pilot can be found on BitTorrent

That summer rite of passage, the annual leaking of the pilots, is upon us.

The reportedly $10 million pilot for J.J. Abrams' new Fox drama "Fringe" was put up on the BitTorrent file-sharing service three days ago, according to an online search and user reports.

This year, there are fewer pilots than ever to potentially get leaked because of the writers strike. But "Fringe," along with Joss Whedon's midseason Fox drama "Dollhouse," are among the most anticipated shows for the fall among online-savvy fans. Alan Ball's HBO vampire series pilot "True Blood" also has reportedly been leaked. "Dollhouse" isn't out there yet.

Fox was careful when distributing this expensive pilot, opting for private industry screenings rather than mailing out DVD screeners. The network is selling the show to advertisers at a premium in exchange for episodes running with fewer ads.

Once on BitTorrent, halting a file's distribution is considered pretty much impossible. Fox and series producer Warner Bros. acknowledged the leak Tuesday but otherwise declined comment.

Although such leaks are dreaded by studios, it's not clear they harm a pilot's chances in the fall. Executives note that TV is a marathon not a sprint, and having great ratings beyond the pilot is more crucial than the pilot itself.

Last summer, most of the anticipated fall shows cropped up online by July. NBC's "Bionic Woman," ABC's "Pushing Daisies," the CW's "Reaper" and Fox's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" all ended up on file-sharing services.

If it's any consolation to Fox, illegal online downloaders seem to like "Fringe." One report called it "a very entertaining show that oozes with quality and polish." (partialdiff)