NEW YORK--Marshall Herskovitz, co-creator of the upcoming Web series Quarterlife, calls his decision to distribute the show on MySpace.com a "deal with the devil."
At a Thursday screening of the first six eight-minute episodes of the show as part of the CMJ Music Marathon and film festival, Herskovitz--best known as one half of the team that created the critically acclaimed TV series Thirtysomething and My So-Called Life--emphasized his aim to bring creativity to the world of professional online video.
"What I'm seeing on the Internet right now is really boring, and I think these big companies are missing it in a big way," he explained in a question-and-answer session following the screening. "All these new things, Hulu and even Joost, they're creating these platforms as though that's the goal. But they're not creating interesting programming. They're reusing content from television."
He continued: "There aren't any very good ideas coming out of it, and I haven't seen anything that really interests me."
Then, according to Herskovitz, there's the YouTube problem.
"People are quite fascinated by user-generated content on the Internet right now, and I'm not against that. And we want that on our site. But I believe that user-generated on the Internet, just like reality shows on television, are not completely satisfactory," he asserted. "There are reasons why we've had classical storytelling for 2,500 years, and across so many cultures. And there are reasons why we've had a film grammar for the past 100 years about how we shoot a film, and there's a place for that."
Which is why he and Zwick saw a window of opportunity for Quarterlife, a series about a half-dozen 20-somethings working in "creative" industries like acting, writing and filmmaking. Divided into eight-minute episodes, the Web series will be the center of a planned social network for fans as well as young creative people in general.
"The social network is about people in their 20s, and it's about creative people, and it's about trying to figure out the next phase in your life," he explained. They're encouraged to shape the show itself, too.
"If the users of the site are a creative community and if they create their own versions of life, whether they are narrative or documentary, (Quarterlife) will be influenced by that," he said.
Social networking aside, Herskovitz hopes Quarterlife will be a pioneering effort in the evolution of new-media filmmaking. "I'm of the belief that within five years, there won't be any diff between the Internet and television, or there'll be a continuum between the Internet and television," he said. "Our idea with this, was that there have been certain assumptions made about the Internet that were not proven, that were just assumptions because that's what people were doing."
Quarterlife will premiere on the MySpaceTV platform on November 11. News Corp.-owned MySpaceTV has a 24-hour exclusive on new episodes of Quarterlife, after which they'll be available on the Quarterlife.com home page and across the Web.
The MySpace deal was necessary and practical, the fiercely pro-indie Herskovitz emphasized repeatedly.
"One of the difficulties in putting this together was to figure out, do we go out there with an unknown site called Quarterlife.com and hope people come to it, or do we make some partnership with a big company that could get us some kind of eyeballs?" he explained to the audience. "I agonized over this for months and months and months.
So is this highly ambitious project actually any good?
Quarterlife is cute and watchable and simultaneously highly believable and utterly implausible--this coming from a reporter who comes from the same age group (20-something) and industry (journalism) as the protagonist, Dylan Krieger.
Here's what's believable: The characters actually do live in cramped, sloppy apartments like their real-life contemporaries. They dress like slobs, spend their evenings playing Foosball while drinking Coronas, and some are embarrassingly dependent on their parents. Figuratively, they're adults, but they still act like kids, and their not-quite-grown-up-yet neurosis is fairly spot on. (In other words, they're just as whiny as their real-life Gen-Y equivalents.)
Dylan, too, is less over-the-top than a typical "nerdy girl" character, and her awkwardly inarticulate way of speaking manages to come across as raw and unscripted rather than annoying--most of the time.
Here's what's not believable: the fact that Dylan manages to maintain a sophisticated video blog, Quarterlife, in which she recounts the deepest secrets of her own life and her friends' lives--ostensibly as a way to express herself creatively while stuck in a low-level job at a glossy women's fashion magazine. The fact that she's willing to do something like that makes her an instantly less appealing character; she's not just an exhibitionist, but she's betraying her friends' trust in the process.
The video blog itself also comes across as an awkward plot device--"How did I know you had a crush on me? Dylan said it on her blog!" (That's a paraphrase, not an actual quote, but you get the idea.)
It's also somewhat predictable, with obvious influences from the 1994 post-collegiate angst flick Reality Bites, except that Winona Ryder's character used a film camera instead of a Webcam. The acting is very good; the dialogue is sometimes more than a little bit hackneyed.
And aside from Dylan, most of the characters come across as updated versions of something that could've been pulled out of an '80s teen movie: promiscuous girl (Dylan's roommate, aspiring actress and flashy bartender Lisa), sensitive boy (wannabe filmmaker Jed), privileged jerk (Jed's business partner and financier, Dan), high-maintenance girlfriend (Dylan's other roommate, Debra), and horny nerd (Jed and Dan's production guy, Andy, who's addicted to online porn and is prone to say things like "The Net is nasty slow today").
But like I said, it's watchable, and a whole lot better than most standard TV shows. And the creators, quite clearly, are on a mission. As Herskovitz concluded his discussion at the CMJ screening, he summed it all up: "It's an attempt really to address the notion that this is a moment in life when a lot of people feel lost even if they know what they want to do and they're really passionate about it."