By Jon Fortt
December 18, 2009

We know that the Internet can build a TV show’s buzz, and sometimes even keep it from getting canceled. But can it bring one back from the dead?

We’ll soon find out: A recently canceled show has come to YouTube.

The Beautiful Life
, a drama about the New York modeling scene, met a swift end on the CW early this season. The show had the misfortune of going head-to-head with Glee, the Golden Globe-nominated breakout hit on Fox, which competes for the same young demographic. After managing just 1.4 million viewers for its first episode and 1.1 million for its second, the CW gave The Beautiful Life the ax.

But here’s the twist: One of the show’s producers is Ashton Kutcher, a.k.a. the most popular guy on Twitter. (He has 4.1 million followers.)

Kutcher is determined to bring the show back. It helps that he’s more connected than the average producer, and those connections have given The Beautiful Life another shot at, well, life. With some funding from Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and distribution help from YouTube (GOOG), Kutcher’s Katalyst Media plans to post a total of five episodes of The Beautiful Life online and keep them there for six months. (Three episodes are up already, with two more coming next week.) If the show draws enough engaged viewers, it could live on – either as an online-only show or back on TV.

“We spend months if not years on a product. We put it out on the television, we let the viewers vote, we get our ratings. If it doesn’t work, we throw it away and start over with something completely different as opposed to tinkering and tweaking and changing the program,” Karey Burke, head of television for Katalyst, told FORTUNE. “What’s exciting is to think about taking a program like this that has a very short shelf life and giving a chance for the brand to live.”

Why did HP underwrite the project? Larry Nelson, HP’s director of digital strategy, said the non-traditional approach is a good fit with HP’s technology brand – and HP is already spending half of its marketing budget on digital. It helped that HP was launching its “Create Change” program that allows shoppers to donate 4% of the purchase price to a charity when they buy directly from – The Beautiful Life offers HP a chance to see whether it can get fans of a broadcast-quality online show to buy HP products, visit HP websites and generally engage with the HP brand.

If HP can figure out how to make all that happen, it’ll be a beautiful thing.

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