Internet series Quarterlife will be broadcast on NBC

by Paul William Tenny

There was a story in Variety right before the weekend saying that NBC was going to bring Internet series Quarterlife to air at some unknown future date, presumably after they start running out of original material due to the writers strike. Any other time it would have been fantastic news, since this is probably going to increase in the future as writers look to get out from under the interfering thumbs of hapless network executives and networks look for more ways to get programming without having to pay anyone for it.

The first episodes of Quarterlife have already been produced, and I've wondered if they were of sufficient quality that they'd look good on NBC and whether or not editing for broadcast would be considered writing. Some of those questions have been answered, some have not.
NBC plans to broadcast it over the air, stream it from their website (and presumably and release it on DVD, for which it'll profit and in any other situation with any other show, the writers mostly would not. That, by the way, is why there's a writers strike going on.

The deal between NBC and the creators of Quarterlife (WGA and SAG members) is a complex one - where Herskovitz and Zwick retain ownership of the series - that I don't have anywhere near enough information on to make judgments. It wasn't known to the best of my knowledge how NBC wanted to handle this. Were they just going to air a series of horrible quality webclips? Was the video shot and put together on high dollar equipment such that it could easily be aired with few conversions or edits on NBC's gear? Would NBC want to take the scripts used to create the existing webisode series and reshoot the entire thing itself?

Depending on the answer to those questions, either everything is fine, or Zwick and Herskovitz were walking a fine line between defining an emerging market for independent production (which I guess is actually the resurgence of an old model) and as WGA members, crossing the picket lines to put their Internet show on a broadcast network during a work stoppage solely for the purpose of filling empty space created by that work stoppage.

I'm not one to take a persons word without hearing what most or all parties involved have to say about any given thing, but Herskovitz may have cleared up at least a few of these issues when he contacted Deadline Hollywood about Quarterlife and the strike.

Here are the key points:

  • Scripts for "these six hours" were completed before the strike began.
  • The deal was locked in before the strike began.
  • Quarterlife producers have offered to negotiate a contract with the WGA similar to the one they want with the networks and studios.
As you can see, there's a lot missing from this puzzle. As of right now, nobody knows what Patric Verrone's stance is on this. Herskovitz claims that Verrone is "open to the idea" of an independent contract, but that's not the same thing as Verrone actually coming out in favor of it during the strike, nor is it necessarily true just because Herskovitz said it was.

Herskovitz also isn't very clear about what "these six hours" means. This series was invisioned (after network rejection) to be for the Internet, so one would think that they'd have 36 scripts - one per episode - rather than six that they'd then have to split up to shoot. Did Herskovitz and Zwick write 36 scripts which NBC has to now piece together? If those two principles did the work, they'd be writing during a strike, which they shouldn't be able to do.

Did they as a team rewrite those scripts to form the six hour-longs right before the strike deadline? That's anybodies guess.

That Herskovitz and Zwick are offering to sign a contract with the WGA that would similar if not identical to what NBC signs with the WGA - only this one including everything the WGA wants during this negotiation - that'd be a fantastic deal all around for the writers guild, even though the guys who wrote these scripts are essentially their own bosses under this deal with NBC and can afford to pay themselves as little or as much as they want within their own budget.

I'm not quite sure how that'd work out, on second thoughts. Would their prod-co be responsible for residuals and whatnot if their prod-co signed the deal, and would that let NBC off the hook entirely for the on-air broadcast in February?

I don't think this has been settled at all. Sure, it's more clear than it was a few days ago, but that's not saying much. This deal is tremendously important for a number of reasons. A contract with the WGA between Zwick and company would be a PR coup for writers in their fight with the networks and studios, it would encourage the guild to offer incentives to other smaller outfits that want to try the independent route rather than always dealing with the huge conglomerates.

It would also give the WGA something they can hold up in front of the AMPTP, saying "look here, they signed this deal and the world didn't end. They are indy - small fish - if they can afford it, why can't you billion dollar corps cough it up?"

May sound like it lacks punch, but if you add up enough things like that, pretty soon you can overwhelm the other guys.

On the other hand, one commentor in DHD noted that this makes NBC look extremely desperate for new material. That they'd go out and buy an Internet series to air during The Gap even after it was passed on by other networks and doesn't sound like very inspiring material to me (just personal opinion there) it's hard to argue against the point.

It also exists in striking contrast to all the big media companies that are still this very second - including NBC - claiming that the Internet/video market is uncertain, not making any money, and worthy only of study for the next three-to-five years.

During the last four weeks, NBC and Fox parternered to launch, a new video portal that will stream all their hit shows for free (with commercials), while NBC has launched a download (but not to own) service that is also free (and also with commercials) - all the networks put their shows on iTunes where you can buy them, and NBC just bought a Internet series and is about to turn it into a TV series.

Is it any wonder why nobody believes them anymore?
in Streaming Video, Television


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