KEEP WALKING — NOTHING TO LOOK AT HERE: The hype felt a little one-sided, so it’s not surprising that audience response to the debut of quarterlife on NBC this week was a bit disappointing. Scratch that — massively disappointing: Tuesday’s premiere pulled in a scant 3.1 million viewers, “the network’s worst time-period performance in the 10 p.m. hour in at least 17 years,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The show had a strong lead-in from The Biggest Loser, but how exactly that was supposed to help an edgy, Internet-derived neither-drama-nor-sitcom with no stars remains unexplained. It was a fun show to write about for journalists on the TV beat — I couldn’t resist devoting yesterday’s column to it — but frankly a Happy Meal tie-in or a guest shot by Kevin Federline was more likely to help the show’s numbers.
The day after the show’s network debut, creator Marshall Herskovitz was already telling an audience at the Harvard Business School that moving the show to network TV was a mistake. “It never should have been a network show. It’s too specific,” he said. “It will probably end up on cable.”
NBC entertainment co-grand poobah and head cheerleader Ben Silverman remained optimistic, and said giving the show a spot on network was “so worth a try.” Well, like, totally.
“The website traffic went up a huge amount and we continue to try new things and new models,” he said, adding: “It’s very inexpensive but we hoped for higher ratings.” Of course you did, Ben — but the fact remains that the first significant shot at developing a new series outside of the long and expensive commissioned-script-and-pilot process has turned out to be a very public flop.
“From the first three minutes," Herskovitz told the crowd at Harvard, "I knew it wasn't right,” citing the show’s intimate storylines and tight camera angles – the latter are probably more suitable for pop-up windows on laptop screens than living room screens, but the former, well, wouldn’t that be a good thing no matter what you’re watching? Herskovitz said that there have been no discussions on the fate of the show so far, though no one really expects it to be on NBC’s schedule by the time the snow starts to melt.
The sad part is that only the most Paleolithic ranks of TV toilers would dismiss attempts at developing a cheaper, more nimble gestation process for new programming – it’s one of those rare things that both bean-counters and creatives can get behind – but in a pathologically risk-averse business, this isn’t going to grease the treads for further innovation. It might have worked, however, if NBC hadn’t decided to lead with a show that wrapped a threadbare portrait of post-collegiate torpor in lo-fi YouTube livery.