Quarterlife, a new dramatic sitdotcom created by Emmy winners Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick (Thirtysomething, My So-Called-Life, Blood Mountain) dubs itself as, “the first Internet series that could just as easily be a film or a television show – it’s smart, funny, emotional…real.” “Hmm?” I think to myself, not entirely sure why this statement makes me feel uneasy inside, yet feeling uneasy nonetheless, I click to play the trailer.
Wow. It seems as though some young twenty-something-artist-girl (Dylan Krieger, no less), who can’t help but tell the truth (it’s a fetish or something) has been blabbing about her friends all over the World Wide Web, but then she tries to play dumb about it! “You know damn well what I’m talking about – you put my face all over the freakin’ net!” her blond friend reminds her. Yep, pretty real. I guess.
Now I’ll reserve any binding judgment about the series until its formal release on November 11, yet the trailer left a few distinct impressions in mind I figured I’d share (they’re not binding though). Firstly, yes, it boasts impressive production values, hip alternative tracks, and features attractive twenty-something actors that actually look twenty-something.
Yet it also reminded me eerily of those Coke road-trip commercials with the tag line, “Coca Cola Real” that feature for example skaters that get bored and decide to look for a killer half-pipe, and in the process, find themselves…or something like that.
In a recent NPR story by Kim Masters, Producer, Marshall Herskovitz explains that “Internet programming simply hasn’t been good enough to engage the kind of audience that television can attract,” clearly inferring his hopes that all this might change with Quarterlife, which Masters explains could be the most expensive programming shot exclusively for the web, with a lot of the money coming out Herskovitz’s own pocket.
Which takes me back to why that original statement on the Quarterlife website made me feel so uneasy inside. With Quarterlife’s arrival, finally the sitdotcom has grown up, because it looks, sounds and feels exactly like a television show or a film. But is this really the way to achieve television and film audience numbers on the web, by making the Internet just another medium (albeit with slightly more creative control) so that we can watch more of the same?
Quarterlife, in fact, began as a television pilot for ABC called “1/4” but was quickly pulled because of creative differences. “The controls exerted by networks today are far far greater than they were 20 years ago and it’s a great relief to me to be able to make these decisions by myself,” Herskovitz explains to NPR’s Kim Masters.
Yet after signing an exclusive contract with MySpace TV, owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Fox, it’s hard to imagine that Herskovitz and team has escaped the world of corporate interest entirely.
To be fair, Quarterlife is launching alongside a social networking site with the tag line, “Figure it Out,” that hopes to foster audience interaction by soliciting story ideas, user comments, even perhaps allowing viewers to audition for new roles as they open up. All of these ideas, if implemented in the final project, would definitely help distance this project from its television roots and make it feel more organically connected to the web and its audience.
And that’s perhaps my main issue with how this show has presented itself thus far. They act as if they’re some brave explorers discovering this new, untouched world, only little do they realize that natives have been thriving on this land for a long time and might be sort of angry by the mini-invasion. If they’d only stop for a minute to learn and respect the culture already present on the web, they might put their impressive resources to better use. Ok, yeah, that metaphor’s a bit overdramatic but I can live with that.
At the bottom of the site users are invited to “participate in the ongoing creation of the series, be discovered as a writer, director, composer, photographer – find your next step as an artist and as a person.” “Hmm?” I think to myself, again. “To be discovered.” “To be an artist,” “To find oneself.” Hmm. Maybe the show understands the YouTube generation better than I thought.