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FALL TV PREVIEW

Beyond TV

The Internet has given networks a vast canvas with which to supplement their shows. Most take advantage.

September 17, 2006|David Colker | Times Staff Writer

IF you're watching your favorite program only on TV, you may be missing half the show.

Online is where it's at this television season as networks increasingly turn to the Internet for cheap ways to promote shows, engender viewer loyalty and make some extra bucks. Beginning this month shows owned outright by CBS, including "Numb3rs" and the "CSI" triumvirate, will be available for streaming online at full length for free (but with ads) the day after they air. Other networks are expected to also regularly stream full episodes online this season -- something they've done sporadically in the past. And more shows will be available for paid downloading from the online iTunes store and the e-tailing giant Amazon's new video venture. Still, network Web mavens have only begun to dig into the online potential.

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abc.go.com

Want to see a commercial for diapers, detergent or spyware eradicator? You don't have to turn on the TV; you need only go to this network's home page to see embedded, unstoppable ads.

That is -- sometimes.

Like a lot of elements of this loosely organized site, you're never quite sure what you are going to get when you click on a link. It might be the video segment you want, something unrelated or nothing at all.

If you do get to the promotions for new shows, you'll find that some have video clips (usually the same ones shown on TV for promotion) but are largely lacking in original content geared to the Web.

For example, the new series "Ugly Betty" is based on a Colombian soap that has spawned versions in several other counties, including Mexico, India and Israel.

The ABC site could have easily gone into that heritage with links to "Betty" sites around the world, but it doesn't.

The network apparently makes more of an online commitment to programs after they strike a chord with audiences: "Grey's Anatomy" sports an intriguing (if only sporadically posted) blog by show writers, while "Lost" has a "Myst"-like game, podcast and insider blog by a mysterious character known as Speaker.

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cbs.com

Your enjoyment of this network site depends largely on your tolerance for actors talking about themselves.

For the new ensemble comedy "The Class," for example, there are seven short videos -- one for each performer -- of the performers chatting about their acting backgrounds and roles. It's like "Inside the Actors Studio" without the rehab stories.

CBS also has several interactive, pop quizzes, including one tied to "Ghost Whisperer" that actually asks, "Is Your House Haunted?"

But these clips and quizzes are one-time perusal features. More enduring are informational aspects of the site, such as the lengthy glossary of forensic terms tied to the "CSI" shows. The network also tosses in a few Web-extra series, including "Greek to Chic" makeovers for frat guys trying to improve their dating. (The show is so low budget that post-makeover dates are at Chili's.)

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cwtv.com

The new network that combines programming from the former WB and UPN has a minimal site at this time. It's nicely designed but contains only pictures and descriptions of the shows and a single video clip. We'll stay tuned.

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fox.com

The primary aim of this multifaceted site seems to be to grab onto fans of established shows and sustain their loyalty.

The section for "24" could keep a devotee busy combing through hour-by-hour text summaries of every episode. There are "research files" that dig deeper into terms or events. And numerous backstage videos spotlight the work of film editors, hairstylists, etc.

"American Idol" gets similar treatment, packaged on slick multimedia pages with embedded videos.

The site's pages are techno-savvy (the links work, the streaming is seamless) and invite visitors to other digital venues. Fans of a show are urged to sign up for a service that sends update messages to their cellphones.

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nbc.com

Like ABC, this network requires you to watch commercials before they grant you the privilege of seeing its promos. And not just once -- the ads for cars or mouthwash seem to pop up at least every third or fourth clip.

Promo clips are just about all that's available for one of the most touted shows of the new season, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." But there are indications of big plans, including an elaborate Web home for the show that simulates a television control room.

If the show becomes a hit, "Studio 60" can hope for the kind of Web treatment that the network's comedy "The Office" has gotten: Its Web section includes a hilarious interview with actor Steve Carell, plus outtakes and cut scenes.

But some of the other shows have Web-only features that are not always inspired. The section for the drama "Las Vegas" includes a video poker game, similar to dozens of others that can be found elsewhere on the Net.

If NBC wants to view a site that makes high use of Web tools, it needs only look to its sister cable operation, Bravo (www.bravotv.com), which makes fans want to come back again and again to view frequently updated Web content.

It's the home of the addicting "Project Runway" series, featuring not only a regular blog but also a podcast by the show's dapper Tim Gunn, who advises the designers.

His podcast allow him to offer insights and to get really bitchy.

I look forward to it as much as the show.

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david.colker@latimes.com.

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