Unfortunately, Quarterlife, the web series created by Marshall Herskovitz, which debuted on NBC to the network’s worst ratings in 17 years in that slot, is dead in the water. It wasn’t all that popular to begin with, but took an even more severe tumble when it tried to make the jump from web to television. Whoever thought that was a good idea either doesn’t know the web very well or doesn’t know television very well, maybe both.
Quarterlife, which revolves around a handful of pretty but dim twentysomethings pondering the meaning of their lives, was hurried to NBC during the Writers Strike, an option the show’s producers said was already in place before the strike. During the strike it seemed like a great idea. It was the only original programming available for hungry TV viewers suffering from a lack of narrative content.
Quarterlife simply didn’t have the buzz to make the jump. Television viewers and web viewers are very different crowds. For the millions of television viewers glued to one or two shows per time slot, the web has hundreds upon thousands of other choices. It is also a communally vicious experience, meaning, much of what goes on with popular sites is bitching, arguing, insulting, and complaining. Users talk back, which they can’t do with television.
This makes the web a tricky place to find a hit. Quarterlife had the right idea with the wrong cast around which to frame the story; there simply isn’t enough “there” there to justify time spent watching it. They come off as slightly irritating. Or maybe they just weren’t given enough to do but gaze at their navels and ponder their place in the world, something almost every person who uses the web, certainly every young person, already does themselves; they don’t really need a fictional show to do it better for them. What it should have been was something the web can’t offer; a murder mystery perhaps, or something in the horror genre.
On the other hand, Quarterlife was surprisingly watchable, if you’re the non-target demographic, like the Sex and the City crowd -– moms and single women. It’s not exactly the kind of audience that will drive traffic up into the millions of page views per day, however, but it certainly might bring in the same kind of audience who enjoyed Herskovitz’ Thirtysomething or even My So Called Life. Ultimately, the web is simply too rough and tumble for such preciousness.
Herskovitz may be slightly ahead of his time. The web series is still in its early stages. There will be a time, in the not so distant future, when web series are the norm. There will probably also be a time when no one watches TV anymore because they get it on demand. Attention does seem to be shifting dramatically to the Internet, where communicating with others is so addicting it replaces almost every other form of entertainment. Someday, someone is going to find just the right way to appeal to the ever-evolving web crowd. Unfortunately, it isn’t going to be with Quarterlife.