Quarterlife's Brief Life on NBC

Web Series Doesn't Cut It on Broadcast, Moved to Cable

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Much of the talk during the recent writers strike centered on the web: How will writers get paid for work that appears later online and how, really, when you think about it, writers could free themselves from their corporate overlords by creating shows directly for the web and finding their own audiences, thank you very much? But it's still early days for that scenario, as the case of Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick clearly demonstrates.
'Quarterlife,' a hit on the web, drew only 3 million viewers on NBC.
'Quarterlife,' a hit on the web, drew only 3 million viewers on NBC.

The writing-directing team behind TV touchstones "30-something" and "My So-Called Life" wanted to take on the age group in between those two, the 20-somethings. Thus was born a pitch for "1/4 life" that ended up on ABC's doorstep three years ago. ABC, which aired those other two life-stage series, decided it didn't want this one.

Switch to webisodes
That's when Herskovitz and Zwick started exploring other avenues, and eventually created it as a series of webisodes with its own social network attached, now dubbed Quarterlife. The show is based on a group of friends, one of whom, Dylan, posts video blogs about their lives. Launched last November, the eight-minute segments appeared at quarterlife.com, but also were hosted on MySpace and YouTube. MySpace and Quarterlife even managed to do some advertising deals with Pepsi and Toyota.

The series gained enough attention that NBC, looking for something to fill its airwaves during the three-month-long writers strike, picked up the show. "Ah!" writers declared. "Vindication! We can just do our own thing, and the networks will come crawling back to us! "

But after last week, those champions of the creator might be glad the strike settlement allows writers to get something for TV shows they create that end up on the web rather than the other way around.

The NBC audience for the premiere was 3.9 million, such a pittance it was deemed a flop. It also seems an indication of just how fragmented an audience those 20-somethings and younger will prove to be in the future.

Questionable success
"Quarterlife" drew decent-size audiences for the web, about 6 million views in all since the launch, according to a Quarterlife spokeswoman. That's across all the sites hosting it: MySpace, which promoted it on its front page, YouTube, where it had its own channel, and at quarterlife.com. The trouble is, those audiences in TV land are considered beyond paltry, especially given the total was over three months, not all in one night. The YouTube channel lists 100,543 views, with 2,970 subscribers and videos watched at 1,695; the latest MySpace video, episode 33, had been played 35,320 times by midday Feb. 28.

A sneak peek that aired on MTV the afternoon before the NBC premiere drew about 246,000 viewers, in line with its daytime audience. Whereas NBC looked at "Quarterlife's" 3.9 million and saw a major drop off from its lead in, "Biggest Loser," over at MTV, it was only off about 8,000 viewers from the show leading into it.

Even Mr. Herskovitz said cable was where it should have been all along, sending along this statement: "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. It is important to remember that 'Quarterlife' has already proved itself as a successful online series and social network with millions of enthusiastic fans. We live in a media world today where many shows are considered successful on cable networks with audiences that are a fraction of those on the Big Four. I'm confident that 'Quarterlife' will find the right home on television as well." Shortly thereafter, NBC was reported as bumping the series to Bravo. Welcome home, Dylan.
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