There's a pretty good chance that in a few years, the leap "Quarterlife" is about to make will be fairly common. But it's not yet, so "Quarterlife" gets to be among the first examples of a new way of making television.
The show premieres on NBC Tuesday (and moves to its regular on-air home on Sunday), but it's been around for three months, streaming in seven- to nine-minute chunks on MySpace TV and on its own siteM. It's among the first series to make the jump from the Internet to traditional television, and as such will bear the extra weight of seeing whether that sort of transition can work.
Add to that the fact that "Quarterlife" carries the imprimatur of producers Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick -- the team behind "My So-Called Life" and "thirtysomething" -- and the show is something of a trend-story perfect storm. Which is fine -- if not exactly what Herskovitz had in mind at the outset.
"I think certainly what we're doing -- which started out to be an Internet-only show and now has this television component -- is part of some, I think, hybrid process that will continue for the next few years," he says. "You're going to see things that have a life, you know, in both sort of camps in some way.
"For us, our concern has been it's fine to be on television. We love television. The problem we've had with television is that the business has changed so much and that the networks exert too much control over the producers. And the fact that we're coming to NBC with complete creative control of our product and that we are delivering them completed episodes -- they haven't even seen the scripts. ... That's never happened literally in the history of television."
What NBC is getting is an hour-long series (each TV episode is made up of six of the online installments, cut down slightly for time) about six friends in their 20s, all of whom are struggling to make sense of their own lives and find a footing in the adult world. At the center of things is Dylan (Bitsie Tulloch), whose video blog (on a site also called Quarterlife) stirs up emotions and hurt feelings within the group.
The show also stars Michelle Lombardo ("Click"), David Walton ("Heist"), Scott M. Foster ("Greek"), Maite Schwartz and Kevin Christy ("Seven Days").
In her blog, Dylan is at times uncomfortably honest. But she can't seem to bring herself to do that in real life -- which is part of what makes the character appealing to Tulloch.
"My character is a blogger, which I think is a really -- it;s a fascinating form of self-expression, particularly in that you can control how you're perceived by people. ... Whether or not it's reality -- there's this strange sort of ambiguous thing that goes on a lot with the blogs, you know, particularly with my character, where Dylan is sort of simultaneously inviting people in while at the same time keeping them at a distance. Because at the end of the day, she's still talking to a computer screen. She's not talking to a living, breathing human being."
"Quarterlife" had its first incarnation as an ABC pilot in 2005 -- one that wasn't all that good, according to Herskovitz: "There are a lot of different aspects of this generation that we kind of missed in that [earlier] pilot. And the sum total was that even though I loved the cast and it had a nice feel to it, you didn't have any emotion at the end of it."
So, after ABC passed on it, Herskovitz and Zwick took it back and started re-working the script, eventually hitting on the idea that the characters lived part of their lives online. That led to the idea of creating the series for the Internet and in turn creating an online community for creative types, which is a significant part of Quarterlife.com.
"I felt it would be interesting to try to create a community that was more focused on artistic people, creative people, passionate people who really, really want to accomplish something in their lives, and want to get somewhere," Herskovitz says. "... And the authentic artistic experience of trying to be better is something that I felt was missing out there, and that's what we've tried to do."