Producer Discusses Writers Strike, New Web Show The Writers Guild of America is on the fourth day of its strike. Veteran television and film producer Marshall Herskovitz talks about the writers strike, studio control of broadcasts and online content.
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Producer Discusses Writers Strike, New Web Show

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Producer Discusses Writers Strike, New Web Show

Producer Discusses Writers Strike, New Web Show

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This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

The issue in the Hollywood writer's strike is, do writers get paid for work that winds up online? The TV networks say it's just too early to start coming up with formulas.

CHADWICK: But it's not too early for producer Marshall Herskovitz. He and his partner, Ed Zwick, are launching a new series this weekend - it's called "Quarterlife" - on the Internet.

BRAND: This is the team that created "Thirtysomething" and the show "My So-Called Life." But the TV business has changed a lot since the '80s and '90s. Writing in the Los Angeles Times this week, Marshall Herskovitz writes six networks now own everything.

CHADWICK: For the business, he says, this means there's a lot less creative freedom and a lot more corporate editorial control. But does Marshall Herskovitz think that this makes any difference to people watching TV?

Mr. MARSHALL HERSKOVITZ (Producer, "Quarterlife"): Oh, I think it makes a lot of difference to the television viewer over time, because I think the quality of the product is inevitably going to decline.

In the old days, if you ran ABC, you went to all of these different production companies to try to get the best programs you could get for your network. Nowadays, if you run ABC, you have somewhat at least of a corporate responsibility to deal with Touchstone, which is the production wing of Disney, just as ABC is the network wing of Disney, to find your programs.

When we made "Thirtysomething" and when we made "My So-Called Life," we never got one note from the network. They never tried to tell us how to make the show. And they understood that our product was sort of a specialty item that wouldn't necessarily appeal to everybody in the audience, but at least it would find an audience that would allow them to be profitable through their advertisers.

And the landscape of television has changed. It's much harder for us to do what it is we like to do on television today.

CHADWICK: You and your partner, Ed Zwick, are actually beginning a new show in the next few days, and it's going to be not on television; it's going to be on MySpace. You're debuting on MySpace.

Mr. HERSKOVITZ: We are producing it with the same production values, the same storytelling values. We're trying to create the same level of quality as everything we've ever done, whether it's been television or movies. This is a huge departure for us and is very, very directly attributable to what I'm talking about.

CHADWICK: Let me ask you. How much are you spending per episode to produce "Quarterlife"? Can you reveal a detail like that?

Mr. HERSKOVITZ: That's a state secret.

CHADWICK: That's a state secret.

Mr. HERSKOVITZ: But what I can tell you is...

CHADWICK: The question is...


CHADWICK: do you actually produce what you say is a television show, or it looks like a television show, it feels like a television show, but it's not on television? Well, it's that mass-television audience that provides enough advertising appeal to pay enough money so that you can produce that show, isn't that right?

Mr. HERSKOVITZ: Our concept is that if you can provide that same quality of programming on the Internet, you will find an audience, and the advertisers will be interested.

And so far, by the way, that's been borne out at least in terms of the advertisers. We've gotten major commitment from advertisers for our show, even before it's on the air. Now, we still have to deliver to the audience, but they believe in the concept, at any rate.

CHADWICK: What was your average weekly audience with a show like "My So-Called Life"?

Mr. HERSKOVITZ: When we were doing "Thirtysomething," the average weekly audience was 18 or 19 million people, and that was considered to be medium, okay, not great. When we did "My So-Called Life," it was 10 or 11 million people and that was considered to be a disaster. Ten or eleven million people today is a hit.

The most successful shows on the Internet are only two minutes long, and you know, they sometimes get 300,000 viewers, 400,000 viewers, that sort of thing. I think if we could get into the millions, even if it's a million, that would be a huge home run for the Internet, but that's not going happen right away.

CHADWICK: What does all of this have to do with a writers strike? Something or nothing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HERSKOVITZ: Well, the op-ed piece that I wrote I think has a lot to do with the writers strike, because I think although the issues that the writers are fighting for aren't really directly connected to what I was talking about, I think the anger in the creative community - in film and television - is very much caused by the unbelievable and really absolute power wielded by these companies.

CHADWICK: Marshall, one big issue in the writers strike is how to set a value on what's going to be online over the next three years, right? How to...


CHADWICK: Well, how do you do it?

Mr. HERSKOVITZ: What we're saying is let's figure it out. Let's try something now. If we make a lot of money, then we'll pay more. If we don't make a lot of money, then we won't be able to do it anymore. We just jumped in. I'm happy to put myself up there as the guinea pig.

And by the way, all of the guilds came to us. We are signatory to every single guild, from the Teamsters to the Writers Guild. And they were all, I would say, very cooperative with us in terms of letting us try to figure out our own model for how to move forward.

Knowing that, this is grand experiment. If you can create a show that has the same values as a television show and make it succeed on the Internet and monetize that, then that opens up a whole new business for everybody. So let's see how we can do that. Let's see what kind of money you can spin off, and then we'll figure out how much we're supposed to pay people.

CHADWICK: Marshall Herskovitz's show "Quarterlife" debuts Sunday on MySpace. And on Monday, it'll be on

Marshall, thank you.

Mr. HERSKOVITZ: Thank you.

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