Blog Post

quarterlife‘s TV Debut D.O.A.

In a development that could kill the network dreams of other fledgling web series, quarterlife‘s premiere on NBC last night bombed. TV by the Numbers paints the not-so-pretty picture: quarterlife came in last place in its time slot, with a mere 3.86 million viewers. An ABC Primetime news special won the hour with 7.64 million viewers, and even the wait-wasn’t-that-canceled Jericho did way better, attracting 6.9 million people.

Over in the quarterlife forums, the faithful are licking their wounds, but remain confident that once the show is switched to its Sunday night slot, everything will be better. Elsewhere on the boards, quarterlifers have created a special “Welcome to the New group from NBC” thread to greet the influx of new fans — but as of this writing, only two noobs had posted a response (and they had seen the show on MTV).

The disappointing debut combined with the end of the writers’ strike could spell an early demise for the show’s TV aspirations. Maybe quarterlife star Bitsie Tulloch needs to find the time to start interacting with quarterlife fans online after all. The show will need all the help it can get.

UPDATE: Our own Liz Gannes spoke with quarterlife creator Marshall Herskovitz at the Harvard Business School Entertainment and Media Conference today. In a nice moment of candor, even Herskovitz admitted that the show “bombed” last night, and offered up some interesting commentary.

Herskovitz said “We shouldn’t have been on a network to begin with. Our show, probably if it was going to TV should have been on a cable network, and that’s probably where we’re going to end up.”

When asked about critics who said quarterlife was just a failed TV show on the web, and now it’s back on television where it belongs, Herskovitz said “I watched it last night, and when you saw it on TV it didn’t look like TV, and when you saw it on the Internet it didn’t look like the Internet.”

Liz has promised to post more good bits of info from the show, so check back later for her story.

26 Responses to “quarterlife‘s TV Debut D.O.A.”

  1. Wirehead

    quote: “quarterlife” really is an Internet show.

    …or a cable show. Or wherever else I can sell it.

    Marshall, you really shouldn’t be surprised to be judged for failing on a TV network as someone who knows “the DNA of television”.

    But let’s forget your failure on TV because now you’re practically TRON, right?

  2. Liz was very nice in person and I was glad to meet her finally. I’m afraid, though, that she might have misunderstood what I was saying. The words she quoted were, “when you saw it on TV it didn’t look like TV, and when you saw it on the Internet it didn’t look like the Internet,” but that was part of a larger discussion, the simplest version being: my show is what it is — it’s not a TV show and it also doesn’t fit with most of the scripted series so far made directly for the Internet. I’m not entirely sure why Liz would construe this as a negative — I certainly don’t. But let’s take it farther: the real point I was making was that several Internet pundits have dismissed the online version of “quarterlife” as essentially a TV show in sheep’s clothing, a failed pilot trussed up and thrown to the Internet where presumably I thought people wouldn’t know any better. Even the eight minute segments added up to hour-long stories — the whole thing was clearly just a cut-up TV show. And I therefore got what I deserved when it went to television: the failed TV pilot failed for real.

    Fine, except that what I knew in those first few seconds was actually something very different: I knew that “quarterlife” wasn’t television. Think what you will of my past work, but I’ve been at this a long time and I know the DNA of television, I know how it manifests itself in story, casting, direction, acting, lighting, photography, set design, costume design, editing, etc., etc. And in every one of those areas and more, “quarterlife” is just not a television show. It’s more ragged, more chaotic, more truthful, less sensationalistic, less presentational, a hundred things you might like or dislike, but trust me, I know just what I’d have to do to turn “quarterlife” into a television show — and it ain’t one now. And I knew in those seconds that a network audience wasn’t going to respond to it — not because it’s bad, though many I’m sure will disagree — but because it just isn’t….television.
    Of course I hoped things would be different, all along I hoped that a large TV audience would be attracted to this other thing, I believed they’d be attracted to it — but in those first few seconds, thirty years of experience told me otherwise. I suddenly had no doubt about the outcome: we were dead. I even knew what the rating would be and said it out loud. Ask the people in the room.
    Why bother to rehash this now? Because “quarterlife” has indeed succeeded on the Internet, by any measure, but especially by the measure Chris Albrecht himself suggested in September: 100K views in the first 24 hours. We are averaging slightly over that across 33 webisodes. And it’s worth rehashing because “quarterlife” would indeed be a success on a cable network, with the 3.1 million viewers we got on Tuesday.
    So, yes, it’s been embarrassing to live this experiment in public, and to fail on television so spectacularly — trust me, you don’t want to experience that — but perhaps those who make their spiritual home in the digital world and distrust me or my motives, or my ability to understand people in their twenties, or any other sins I might be guilty of, including lack of talent — might pause for a moment and realize that the only place I’ve failed is on a big television network — and is this the place to judge me for that? Believe me, I feel really bad about it, in spite of Liz’s skepticism about my later statement. I have nothing but gratitude to NBC for giving us a shot. I caused them to lose a lot of money, which I also feel bad about; I let down Ben Silverman, whom I greatly respect and like. I got Jeff Zucker really mad at me. The whole situation sucks, not least because a two-year labor of love has very likely been dealt a mortal blow.
    So forgive me if I insist — in the midst of all this blood-letting — on the one thing I know is true: like it or hate it, “quarterlife” really is an Internet show.

  3. I think NBC rushed it and I think it hurt them badly.

    Though I’m not a huge fan of the show, it could’ve done better if what went on TV was completely new and they continued doing some form of web series online — appease both fans and hope for crossover.

    Honestly, I’m just not sure it’s strong enough as a show in general — that is, internet TV or not, it needs a better script to appeal to people.

    But then again, I know very little about very much.

  4. Unfortunately rb, viewership numbers are the top metric for the networks right now.

    And even if the online vid site does well, that won’t please TV advertisers. And I wouldn’t expect Quarterlife’s fans to put up a Jericho-esque battle for the series, either. 3M viewers won’t keep you on network TV for long.

  5. I agree with Frank. Using the # of viewers at one point in time isn’t the point of new media. It’s the number of views after it’s shown and the aggregate views years after the show is released.

    of viewers for one measly time slot is a really old metric.

  6. I haven’t watched it yet but I recorded it on my DVR (along with Jericho.) I’m really looking forward to seeing it in HD on my TV. Now my wife and I can watch it together.

    It’s too bad about the ratings but I’m wondering how much promotion it received on TV before it aired. I just happened to see it in the DVR guide by accident and I already knew what it was. If NBC wants the TV viewers they’ll have to promote it and not just count on the fans who saw it on the internet to tune in and watch it again. TV is a different audience.

  7. You must also consider that it was a replay of the their most watched webisode. It wasnt new material, only new to network viewers that arent into new media. Its ratings probably lacked most of its core viewers that have seen that episode a million times.

  8. Ratings is only one barometer – with this type of multi-platform experience, it is also about engagement too (it is concerning that engagement isn’t happening on that board).

    This type of cross-platform series is the future, but early tries may not always get the ratings that made-for-TV shows are receiving, but they are important experiments nonetheless. Be kind. :)