Quarterlife’s failure on NBC does not a trend make
It’s only been a day and a half since Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick’s off-Internet series, quarterlife, premiered on NBC and promptly tanked, and already people are saying things to me like “see, this development thing off the Internet doesn’t work.”
I disagree. Quarterlife tanked because it’s not a good show. First and foremost, the acting is mostly awful. The sets are grey, dark and muted. The characters are whiny, self-absorbed, and way too wordy, like characters from Dawson’s Creek who have (sort of) reached adulthood. And while their problems are overly dramatic, they aren’t that interesting. In fact, all the drama in this show feels trumped up and a little forced.
Developing TV shows off the Internet will be like anything else in TV – a crap shoot. There are very few pilots in the history of TV that have been guaranteed successes once they hit the air. In fact, more common are legendary stories of shows that were definitely not hits – Seinfeld, for example – and then grew into TV monsters because someone powerful – Brandon Tartikoff in Seinfeld’s case – believed in them.
But the far larger trend is shows with plenty of hype – and Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is the perfect example– that never take off.
That is the business of television. It’s one big gamble and it’s not for the faint of heart. This is why huge studios end up financing most of it. They are the only ones who can afford to take such big risks, and even they complain quite a lot about it. In fact, NBC Universal President Jeff Zucker was back talking about just this topic today.
Those spiraling costs are why developing shows on the Internet interests the studios. They can do it cheaply, and they can get an early idea of how a show might work. Granted, NBC was in a bit of dire straits due to the writers’ strike, so they bought quarterlife without knowing much about it. That also seems to be a bit of Ben Silverman’s M.O. – shoot quick from the hip. Much of the time it seems to work for Ben; we can’t be at all surprised if sometimes that intuitive, gun-slinger style fails him.
And at least one show has been successful off the Internet. That, of course, is Warner Bros.’ TMZ, which grows almost weekly in syndication, appeals to young audiences and has an absolutely huge following on the Internet. TMZ fits the Internet model perfectly: it’s comprised of a bunch of quick clips that don’t require too much thought and absolutely entertain.
That’s why quarterlife actually works on the Web, where it probably should have stayed. It airs there in six-minute clips, it doesn’t require too much commitment, and it feels, well, Internet-y. It doesn’t seem that expensive or produced or even that well done, frankly. But it’s a fun distraction from the day-to-day, and that’s what people mostly want online.
So, yes, quarterlife premiered to poor ratings. But I would expect to see many more shows become popular on the Internet and then end up on a broadcast or cable network. It’s a natural progression from the small niche audiences to the broad, all-encompassing ones.