Show 'Quarterlife' Made Just for Web

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A big question in TV is how to make it work on the Internet. Emmy winning producers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick are trying. Their new program Quarterlife started out as a pilot for ABC but wound up probably the most expensive programming exclusively for the Web.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The big question in TV right now is what's the way to make it work on the Internet. Few have committed to tackling that challenge as fully as Marshall Herskovitz and his partner, Ed Zwick. They're the Emmy-winning producers of the shows "thirtysomething" and "My So-Called Life."

NPR's Kim Masters reports that their newest program is probably the most expensive programming ever shot exclusively for the Web.

(Soundbite of production crew)

KIM MASTERS: Last February, Marshall Herskovitz and his crew squeezed into the living room of a small house in a working-class Los Angeles neighborhood. This ramshackle home was the set of his new show. The story of a group of friends in their 20s trying to find their places in the world.

Mr. MARSHALL HERSKOVITZ (Producer, "Quarterlife"): Here we are in the minuscule dining room, and there is the minuscule living room. And, in fact, we don't even really have bedrooms for all of them. We're kind of faking it.

MASTERS: You might call this new program twentysomething, though Herskovitz might not laugh. The show is called "Quarterlife."

Mr. HERSKOVITZ: All right. Let's wait a second. We've got some noise outside.

Unidentified Man: You're out (unintelligible).

Mr. HERSKOVITZ: John, is that bad?

Unidentified Woman: Yeah. We got to go or lose the light.

Mr. HERSKOVITZ: We're good. All right, sorry. Start again. Ready and action.

MASTERS: "Quarterlife" started out as a pilot for ABC. Herskovitz made a version of it that he admits didn't work, and began discussing a new approach with the network.

Mr. HERSKOVITZ: What they were asking in terms of changes in the script or even who was going to write it, just - didn't sit comfortably with me.

MASTERS: So Herskovitz decided to make "Quarterlife" for the Internet. His ambition was to make it part of the social networking Web site where people could look for jobs and graduate programs, suggest plotlines and characters for the show - even audition for it. And Herskovitz says the experience has been liberating.

Mr. HERSKOVITZ: 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 myself.

MASTERS: When Herskovitz launched the project, he broke a basic rule of Hollywood - he used his own money. He shot the first few episodes for a fraction of the cost of a network pilot, which can run a few million dollars. But he isn't quite working on a shoestring.

Mr. HERSKOVITZ: I said I have to make something that's professional. I called in every favor, everyone I know, everyone who's working on this has called in every favor - and this is a professional production as the most cut rate you can imagine.

MASTERS: Herskovitz finished filming his pilot back in March. But after months of grappling with how to launch the Web site and show, he concluded he couldn't go it alone. Now, he's announcing a deal with MySpaceTV, a new feature on MySpace that is vacuuming up programming from sources including NBC and Fox -but nothing quite like "Quarterlife."

Mr. JEFF BERMAN (General Manager, MySpaceTV): It's a landmark moment for MySpaceTV to have guys with Emmy Awards on their mantels producing for our community.

MASTERS: MySpaceTV General Manager Jeff Berman says his company can provide a huge launch.

Mr. BERMAN: With a hundred ten million-plus active users worldwide, this has got the chance to find an enormous audience from Venice, California all the way to Venice, Italy.

MASTERS: MySpace isn't putting money into the program, but will give Herskovitz a link to the "Quarterlife" Web site and a cut of ad revenue from the show. That money won't go far. The Internet doesn't come close to generating enough to pay for programming that looks like a network production. But Herskovitz thinks that until now, Internet programming simply hasn't been good enough to engage the kind of audience that television can attract - an audience that lures big advertising dollars.

Some television executives are skeptical that Herskovitz's gamble will payoff. They say the costs of producing "Quarterlife" are simply too high.

Technology forecaster Paul Saffo says Herskovitz could be a little early to the party, or he might right on time.

Mr. PAUL SAFFO (Technology Forecaster): All the pieces are just falling into place to turn the Web into a really compelling medium for video.

MASTERS: Saffo says Herskovitz is positioned to take advantage of new handheld devices suitable for watching television shows. And those devices could help "Quarterlife" in more ways than one. Herskovitz says deep-pocketed partners are eager to have their products woven into "Quarterlife" plotlines, though he won't name any.

In the show, Bitsie Tulloch stars as Dylan Krieger, a tormented, aspiring writer who pours her angst into her Apple laptop.

(Soundbite of show, "Quarterlife")

Ms. BITSIE TULLOCH (Actress): (As Dylan Krieger) A sad truth about my generation is that we were all geniuses in elementary school, but apparently the people who deal with us never got our transcripts because they don't seem to be aware of it.

MASTERS: On the set last February, Tulloch said the project was an adventure.

Ms. TULLOCH: No one's really done this before, and we all know that. So there's something kind of exciting about being involved in this, and also just because Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick are who they are.

MASTERS: She's had to wait a while to see "Quarterlife" launch. But Herskovitz will generate 36 eight-minute episodes the same as six hours of television. The program and the Web site will launch November 11th.

Kim Masters, NPR News.

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