Most people catch up with their favorite network television shows online, but how many people get the chance to watch their favorite Internet series on television?
“Quarterlife,” a Web-television series created by Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, was recently acquired by NBC and premiered last Tuesday, Feb. 26 at the 10 p.m. slot. After garnering only 3.1 million views and the lowest ratings in 17 years, NBC quickly cancelled the series — which was scheduled for a six-episode run — last Wednesday.
“Quarterlife” tells the ongoing stories of six young artists in their twenties and their attempts to understand life. The show focuses mainly on Bitsie Tulloch, who plays Dylan, a smart but confused journalist who blogs to the world about her life, friends and problems. This causes controversy in the beginning of the series when her friends — filmmakers Danny and Jed, actress-singer Lisa, film editor Andy and activist Debra — discover that she’s talking about them and filming them for the blog.
Unlike other Web series, “Quarterlife” was not only launched for entertainment on established video sites like Youtube or Myspace — it was also released in conjunction with an accompanying social network, quarterlife.com, a site designed to target the young artist type portrayed by the series’ protagonists. The Web site also plays a key role in the series: Several of the characters video blog on the site, and Lisa even lands a music gig there.
The Web series has been running primarily on Myspace.com, with select episodes on Youtube as well. With over 4.4 million views for the entire series on Myspace, “Quarterlife” has proven its success as a Web-television series. Unfortunately, despite NBC promotion, it did not make a smooth transition to network television. Along with terrible ratings, the show was greeted with some brutal critical response, especially from bloggers. In his review for Slate.com, Troy Patterson described the show’s target demographic as “people with enough youthful idealism to tolerate the show’s high-gloss navel-gazing.”
Herskovitz and Zwick, creators of “Quarterlife,” are not accustomed to such negative feedback. The two have created several award-winning series such as “Thirtysomething,” “My So-Called Life” and the critically acclaimed “Once and Again.” The duo also produced and directed smash hits on the silver screen, including “Traffic,” “The Last Samurai” and “Blood Diamond.”
The overwhelmingly negative response to “Quarterlife” on network television raised many questions: Can internet television make it to network television? How is the Internet changing the way we watch television? Will network television take over the Web entertainment world as well? Has it already?
Much of the negative feedback could be attributed to the fact that Herskovitz and Zwick, accomplished producers in their fifties, are trying to create a gritty, realistic show about artists in their twenties. Herskovitz told the LA Times: “There’s been an extraordinary amount of negativity surrounding the project. It mostly came from the people who had a sense of proprietary claim to the Internet and resented us TV guys coming onto their turf, saying we were going to do something new on the Internet.”
Sean Gandert ’08, a writer for Paste magazine, was turned off by the NBC marketing campaign. Gandert says he primarily uses the Internet to catch up on missed episodes of his favorite network shows, like “The Simpsons” or “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” Comparing “Quarterlife” to other Web-television series, Gandert said he is more interested in independently produced shows. Even though he knows that Herskovitz and Zwick are independently financing their venture, he says, “It’s not the same. It is less interesting to me than some of the other productions produced by small groups.”
Gandert cited shows like “Inconvenient Molly” — a Web series written and directed by Yale alums Eli Clark ’07 and Jeremy Robbins ’06 — as the type of productions he prefers.
Bloggers and online audiences were inclined to think that this show was a corporate-backed operation, given the high production value and the fact that it originally ran as an ABC pilot. Additionally, the show received a jump start in publicity when it was featured on Myspace and Youtube. All of this led people to assume that this was a corporate-sponsored production — as they should, based on the show’s production value. As a result, the show faced a significant obstacle in proving its authenticity as a true Web series, despite the fact that it’s actually produced out of the pockets of Herskovitz and Zwick.
NBC has decided to continue airing the show on Bravo, another NBC-Universal channel that is more familiar to unique content. Herskovitz admitted he was concerned about “Quarterlife’s” transition to network television, saying, “I’ve always had concerns about whether ‘Quarterlife’ was the kind of show that could pull in the big numbers necessary to succeed on a major broadcast network.”
Tulloch has not doubted the viability of the show since the start. Like Gandert, Tulloch also uses the Internet to catch up on missed shows. In an interview with BuzzSugar.com, when asked about whether she was nervous about being on an Internet series, she said: “If I was [watching shows online], and I have friends who do it all the time, then I had no misgivings about thinking that [‘Quarterlife’] would be successful at all.”
Herskovitz and Zwick are optimistic about their new placement on Bravo and confident that the show will find its home on cable television. The cast shares these sentiments.
Tulloch is also very excited about the continuation of the show on television, saying, “I’m just really looking forward to reaching an even greater audience than we have on the series. It makes sense that the Internet was the first platform for the show because it’s such a huge part of the show.”