Technology is changing the media industry in dramatic ways. From print to broadcast, the portability of technology has brought a huge shift to the way information and entertainment reach their respective audiences. Consider the popular American television and film directors Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick. During the 1990s they were known for popular shows like “thirtysomething” and “My So Called Life.” But in the 21st Century Herskovitz and Zwick’s production firm The Bedford Falls Company decided to try something new: launch a show about twenty-something Americans, featuring the first original programming for the Internet with a social networking component. Producer Josh Gummersall partnered with MySpace to bring “quarterlife” to a new generation of technologically savvy viewers.
The Bedford Falls Company is known for incisive portrayals of relationship and experience during life’s key passages. The term quarterlife refers to 20 to 30-year-olds who have lived an estimated one-fourth of their life. It is a time when many of life’s important decisions are made: careers are started, marriage is considered, lifestyle is chosen. In the series “quarterlife,” Herskovitz and Zwick enlisted directors, writers and producers from Bedford Falls to help tell the ongoing stories of six creative people in their twenties—a young journalist and writer, Dylan Krieger, played by Bitsie Tulloch videoblogs about her life and the life of her friends and is then surprised and excited to learn that she actually has an audience, which she learns after commenting on the life of her roommate Lisa, the aspiring actress. The show claims to feature a commitment to realism and the recognition of universal human themes through the truthful depiction of the way American young people speak, work, think, love, argue, and just have fun. And considering that the MySpace “quarterlife” page has nearly 13,000 friends who seem to relate to these characters, they must have done something right.
The first season featured 36 episodes, ranging in length from 7 to 13 minutes. After debuting on MySpace, NBC picked up the show and ran one episode as an hour-long drama series on Tuesday, February 26, 2008. It was the first time a major American TV network broadcast an Internet series. But after disappointing ratings the show was moved to the BRAVO network, which aired a marathon of “quarterlife” on Sunday, March 9, 2008.
The short, quippy Internet episodes did not translate to traditional television. Strung together, the episodes couldn’t hold the attention of viewers for the hour-long time slot. What had captured my attention for the novelty of it all and kept me coming back online didn’t have the same impact on network television. Maybe because expectations on the Internet are lower and “quarterlife” exceeded the quality of anything before offered, but expectations for prime time American television have to live up to the standards of show like “Friends” a sitcom that had already successfully explored the same subject matter.
The failure of the show to succeed on television is also because “quarterlife,” a drama not a sitcom, seemed overly dramatized, because those who watch television are actually older and not interested in the high drama of being twenty-something. The heavy weightiness through which the young creative characters and their young, creative followers view life is just so yesterday. The characters were far too into themselves, thinking they were geniuses that the rest of the world had failed to notice. The characters claimed to be surprised that people watched what they posted on the web. But that is exactly what they want—people to watch, to discover them. Their drama was disingenuous.
“Quarterlife” was a pioneer. The website and social networking component are still up and running and rumors of new episodes never came to fruition this past November. Advertisers continue to buy space and not only twenty-somethings, but also everyone who dreams of creative success as a writer, filmmaker, poet, actor, musician seems to be flocking to the site to share and perhaps be discovered.
The genius of “quarterlife” isn’t so much its original Internet programming. The genius of “quarterlife” is that it captures a slice of American culture—the narcissistic nascent adults gathering to lament how the rest of us just don’t get how smart, talented and brilliant they are.
And likely never will.