Online and On Air – ‘quarterlife’: Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick’s Internet Phenomenon on TV

Quarterlife

‘Quarterlife’, with a small q, is the first online program to be picked up by a major television network. Last night NBC showed the opening episode at 10.00pm in an hour-long format and will screen the remaining five episodes on Sunday nights at 9 pm (E.T.). The show premiered online in November with episodes of approximately eight minutes going on-stream twice weekly. The storylines of the episodes primed the show for the move to television, as each group of six episodes on the internet was centered around one theme and these amounted to just about one hour of commercial tv. This is the format that NBC adopted when the show was initially booked soon after it began showing on the internet in November of last year.

Twentysomethings

The program is the brainchild of Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, the creators of ‘thirtysomething’ and the producers of the classic show ‘My So-Called Life’, perhaps most famous for launching the career of Claire Danes, who played the introspective teenage character, Angela Chase, around whom the show was based. quarterlife focuses on the age-group in between that paid attention to before, namely, the ‘twentysomethings’. The name of the show derives from the quarterlife crisis that psychologists believe happens as twenty-year-olds encounter the beginning of independence, and as they struggle to set themselves on the right path for their adult life. Herskovitz admits, in an online interview with NBC’s Ben Silverman, that the concept of the show is not really limited to this age group and can face those younger and older.

If You Don’t Have a Dream

The characters of the show include an aspiring writer, Dylan (Bitsie Tulloch, pictured inset), who works a low-level researcher and article writer for a magazine she doesn’t really believe in. She video-blogs with almost too much honesty about her housemates and their friends, as she waits patiently for yet another rejection of her stories. The honesty she is capable of in her blogs, she finds hard in her real life. Her housemates are Debra (Michelle Lombardo) who works with her father in the family business selling household appliances and Liza (Maite Schwartz), who works in a bar and attends an acting class on the side. Debra is in a relationship with Danny (David Walton) who with his best friend Jed (Scott Michael Foster), conjure up for us what the co-creators of this show might have been like in earlier days. They are aspiring film directors who begin their post-college careers by offering to make a commercial for a local car dealership, with a cash-on-acceptance agreement. They are helped in their endeavors by their technophile editor Andy, a comic chic-geek played convincingly by Kevin Christy.

The Best Thing Not On TV

The reason the show went to the internet in the first place was that networks were demanding too much editorial control over its content. That a network has now picked it up may have a large part to do with the Writers’ Guild strike and the dearth of writers available to provide for the network’s season. That the show was ready made and ready to go certainly would have added to the attraction of the show. However, those six million viewers accessed an essentially unadvertised internet show seems a further vindication for NBC’s decision to air.

Herskovitz’s Commitment to Emotional Realism

The show, in fact, lives up to its pedigree. The cast is excellent and the writing, especially that by Herskovitz himself, is immediately convincing. Devon Gummersall, of ‘My So-Called Life’ fame and Lucy Teitler also write. Eric Stolz shares some of the directing duties. Interestingly, the show’s website has established a ‘social network’ created around the show, a community for artists of all types which already shows signs of being a unique receptacle for work and for mutual support and encouragement. While the internet is sometimes castigated for its ‘dumbing-down’ effect, here we have an exception that helps to disprove that rule.