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March 5th, 2008 Dan Carlson | DVD & TV
 

Drawn and Quartered

The predictable failure of Quarterlife.

     
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Quarterlife

NBC’s Quarterlife, a sitcom about those crazy kids and their blogs, has been booted from the network after just one episode and relegated to sister network Bravo. The explanation is a pretty simple one: The debut marked NBC’s lowest ratings in 17 years in the 10 pm Tuesday slot, meaning the network could have broadcast a test pattern and more people would have watched. Even co-creator Marshall Herskovitz, whose writing and producing credits include Thirtysomething and My So-Called Life, has said the new series never made sense on NBC. “It never should have been a network show,” he told a Harvard Business School audience. “It’s too specific.” Herskovitz is correct the show never should have been picked up by NBC, but he’s wrong in thinking cable is a better fit. In truth, Quarterlife should never have made it on air at any network.

It’s not that the show is too “specific,” as Herskovitz claimed, using the word as an unfortunate pejorative that implies the program was somehow too high-concept to find success with TV audiences. This is not true for two reasons: First, there’s almost no accounting for what TV audiences will watch, regardless of specificity of premise. Consider the saddening continuation of Dancing with the Stars, which is such a specifically bizarre concept I still think the producers just threw darts at a board and fired up the cameras. But here’s the second problem: Quarterlife was anything but specific; it was, in fact, as generic and broad-based within its setup as possible. It’s about a group of kids whose lives are chronicled online in blog and video format, which means every person you know under 30 could, in some conceivable way, relate to the series’ concept. And they still didn’t watch.

The first reason is obvious: The show’s not good. The characters are bland and interchangeable, and seem culled from a book of twentysomething stereotypes that are somewhere between bemusing and offensive to actual twentysomethings. Dylan (Bitsie Tulloch), the girl in the eye of the pseudo-storm, has a relationship to blogging that can only be described as forcefully casual, as if the show’s creators were desperate to not look like rookies.

But the second reason is more damning. The idea of Quarterlife is to look at a group of postcollegiate kids trying figure out their lives and “the Net.” The show’s target demographic is men and women in their 20s of average tech savvy, meaning they’re comfortable watching videos online—and that automatically dooms the show’s hopes for broadcast success, because the only people who would potentially watch the show can and have already done so online at the show’s official site. There’s no sense tuning into an hourlong drama that’s been pasted together from more digestible chunks available for viewing anytime online. What’s more, quality aside, Quarterlife is an attempt to film and broadcast a part of life that for this generation is all about filming and broadcasting. The series wants to take the blog culture and use it as a springboard for prime-time programming, when anyone who would really relate to the show is busy writing or shooting or composing their own self-reflexive little works of art. Plus, visiting the show’s site only lets you interact with actors pretending to be real people, while actual blogs let you interact with…real people. Given the discrepancy between Quarterlife and the blogs you’ve already checked today, the question is clear: Why watch the pretend version when the real one is much more interesting?


SEE IT: NBC has moved Quarterlife to Bravo but has not yet scheduled a premiere.
 
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