Webisodes may threaten shows
GENERATION WHY: “A sad truth about our generation is that we were all geniuses in elementary school but everyone who deals with us never got our transcripts ...” This line, spoken by Dylan, the apparent protagonist of quarterlife in the series’ first web episode – or “webisode,” that bitterly inelegant coinage – is meant to sum up the series, which debuted on real television this week on NBC. It must be the emotional précis of the show, because it sticks out, burnished and conspicuous, the moment it’s uttered by Bitsie Tulloch’s Dylan, a proudly awkward young woman toiling near the editorial bottom rungs of a woman’s magazine she never read, living in a down-market version of Melrose Place with other similarly drifting post-collegiate types.
The hype for quarterlife (no capitals – very post-irony) was half-hearted, but it was hard to miss during the writers’ strike, as no other new shows were emerging, and it had a compelling underdog angle – rejected by ABC and put in development hell, it kicked around corner offices and mailrooms around Hollywood all last year until it debuted in 8-minute segments on the web. Starved for new material – and hemorrhaging under-35 viewers – it was finally given a shot by NBC, in an unusual cross-network deal with MTV. (The show also airs on E! here in Canada.)
“We're always looking at ways to communicate with the younger demographic," NBC programming big cheese Ben Silverman told USA Today, with his customary unconvincing impression of a sincere person. "I really love the show."
In the black-is-white and up-is-down world created in the aftermath of the writers’ strike, quarterlife’s difficult birth is being scrutinized with more than the usual slightly clinical, vaguely malevolent interest by industry observers and insiders. If it succeeds, it’s being suggested as the first audible toll of the death knell for the TV pilot as we know it.
“If quarterlife ... can draw audiences large enough to cover its costs and draw advertisers, it will prove Internet productions can form the base of a new model for TV networks struggling with the loss of viewers and advertising to other pursuits,” said the Financial Post yesterday, paraphrasing “Marc Campbell, a former investment banker who launched icn.tv this year to showcase a portfolio of 40 comedy shows on the Internet.”
The show itself is a bit less than convincing; just as Tulloch’s Dylan seems altogether too pretty to be the wallflower geek girl, the dialogue and characterization of its cast of young folk seem too much like some older scriptwriter’s idea of that generation, distilled from blogs and text messages and the broad generalizations of magazine articles. Not surprisingly, icn.tv is already hosting a parody, 2 / 8 life, that’s both funnier and more basically true to life than the original. “We know what blogging is,” says the mother of Dylan’s satirical counterpart, “but you put video of yourself on the internet for everyone to see?” It’s the kind of question some of us have been waiting to hear someone ask.