Forthcoming TV programs are increasingly appearing on peer-to-peer networks, evidently without the owners’ permission. Pretty much everything ends up on these file-sharing networks, so it’s no great surprise that yet-to-be-aired TV programs are turning up, but the downloads, and the underground publicity surrounding the programs, are actually affecting TV networks’ programming decisions, the Wall Street Journal reports:

A new television show called "Jericho" has a small but dedicated group of fans, who’ve been buzzing about the show online. The reaction has been surprising — considering that CBS won’t air "Jericho" until late September. Viewers are responding to a leaked video of the pilot that’s been flying around the Internet.

Networks have increasingly been experimenting with giving viewers early looks at coming shows on their official Web sites, as well as on iTunes and through DVD rentals. But recently at least 10 unaired pilots have been leaked — apparently without the networks’ permission — to so-called peer-to-peer networks that allow users to download files stored on each others’ computers. In many cases, the pilots appear to have been "ripped" from official DVDs made for reviewers and company executives.

It’s unclear whether the leaks resulted from security breaches or quiet efforts to promote the shows. In either case, Internet leaks can sometimes pay off for TV shows. In June, a TV pilot called "Nobody’s Watching," which the WB network had passed on, was leaked to the video-sharing site YouTube. It generated enough of an audience online that NBC decided to pick up the show for development.

At least four of CBS’s fall pilots have been circulated on the Web, a development that CBS spokesman Chris Ender calls "both flattering and frightening." He adds: "We’re pleased that there’s an early demand for our shows but the marketing benefits can’t excuse what is illegal theft of our programming."

Translation: Oh, please don’t throw us into the briar patch!