Friday, February 29, 2008

Quarterlife: A Slave to 2 Masters

"Someone told me long ago theres a calm before the storm,
I know; its been comin' for some time.
When its over, so they say, it'll rain a sunny day,
I know; shinin' down like water.
I want to know,
Have you ever seen the rain coming down on a sunny day?"

-John Fogerty

Internet entertainment isn't going away. I'd wager that in less than five years no one will watch television any more, at least not as we know it now. Everything we watch, everything we do will be ported through our internet cables and delivered directly and instantaneously to our fingertips.

But right now no one seems to get it. Writers are afraid because they like the old way of telling stories and filmmakers are afraid because they don't understand the audience and studios are afraid because they don't know how to make money off of it, and they squirm at the idea of their shows being in the hands of 'internet hackers' and 'pirates.'

So light of all that, it is actually quite admirable for someone like Marshall Herskovitz, creator of "My So Called Life" and "Thirtysomething," two successful shows on network television, to leave the comfort of his old stomping grounds and blaze his own trail in the jungle of internet entertainment. It was called 'Quarterlife.' It was a show about 25 year-olds trying to figure out their lives after college.

Quarterlife was made with a television budget (albeit a small budget compared to other TV shows) and was made with the purpose of gathering an audience online, with the hopes of being picked up by a TV network. It did considerably well online, and sure enough, NBC decided to air in on primetime and 'give it a chance.'

Two days ago, it premieres on NBC, and when the ratings came in, it didn't just get poor ratings. it was the worst rated show in the last 10 YEARS. So, after one episode, the execs pulled the plug, and ushered the show over to Cable television. Looks like it internet and TV just don't mix.

That is, if anyone still believes in the Nielsen Rating System anymore... Basically if you aren't familiar with how TV ratings work, they take a 'representative sample' of 5,000 people and monitor what they watch to determine what is being watched on the other 99 million televisions in the country.

But let's look at what it's problems were. I think first of all, the show is structured like a soap opera. But unlike television soaps it only had 8 minutes to get you to care for the characters, and then it stopped again. Herskovitz' answer to this dilemma seemed to be to increase the emotional levels of all the characters to make up for lack of time. As a result, the characters are crying about their problems before you even care about them.

Then there's the whole video blogging aspect of the show. the main character has a video blog, but the show only used that blog cam perspective for less than a quarter of it's running time, so the web audience can never truly buy that they are real people actually blogging. Then bring this show to TV, and everyone who isn't an avid internet user (see: older age range) does not identify with what they are doing, and they just shut it off.

So it's alienation on both fronts. instead of spanning the gap, the show just seemed like it was made for neither audience. That combined with the fact that anyone who DID love the show had already seen it by the time it premiered on NBC, so they didn't watch it, depriving it of any hope of good ratings.

Let this be a lesson to anyone making entertainment: know your audience. Especially if you are creating something that is specific for your audience, you need to know who you are dealing with. Especially if you are going to produce content for the web. And pretty soon, the web will be the only place to get entertainment. There's a storm coming, are you ready for the rain?



Anthony Parisi said...

Quarterlife=massive fail

Alexa said...

I find you, now I stalk you on this distribution model known as the internet...