The television industry should consider March 2 at 9 p.m. as appointment viewing for all. That’s when the biggest test so far in Web-to-TV convergence will occur, as NBC premieres “Quarterlife,” a six-week midseason replacement that started on the Internet.
The Emmy Award-winning team of Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick created the show, which debuted Nov. 11 on MySpace and companion site Quarterlife.com.
Shortly after the premiere, NBC announced it was picking up the Internet series, making “Quarterlife” the first series to make the leap from the Web to TV.
The show’s success or failure on TV will be closely watched. “Any time anything is successful, everyone will try to replicate it,” said Mitch Oscar, executive VP of digital at media agency Carat.
While “Quarterlife” is the first Web show to make the jump intact, TV networks have been combing the Web for talent for the last few years. Bravo ordered a reality pilot featuring William Sledd, host of Web series “Ask a Gay Man,” which runs on Bravo-owned OutZoneTV. Mr. Sledd started on YouTube. Also, syndicated newsmagazine “Extra” now features two segments a week from saucy online entertainment network NoGoodTV.com.
Others want to follow suit. Television production company FremantleMedia North America started pitching a pilot to broadcast and cable networks last month based on its Web property “Atomic Wedgie.” Hayden Black, star of online video shows “Abigail’s X-Rated Teen Diary” and “Goodnight Burbank,” has been working with an HBO producer to pitch “Abigail’s X-Rated Teen Diary” to cable networks.
But “Quarterlife” is unique because of the star power involved. Mr. Herskovitz and Mr. Zwick are heavyweights in Hollywood whose TV credentials include “My So-Called Life” and “thirtysomething.”
“Quarterlife” runs on MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Imeem.com, NBC.com and Quarterlife.com as eight-minute episodes. The show will remain the same on TV, though the producers will edit out four-letter words for the TV version and will shave a minute or two from each episode to fit the hour time slot.
But “Quarterlife” will remain an Internet show at heart, said Mr.
Herskovitz. Whether NBC picks up the show for another season or not, the duo will continue to produce the series for the Web.
The show will always premiere first online, likely a few months in advance of the broadcast premiere, he said.
While the industry is watching “Quarterlife” as an example of convergence, Mr. Herskovitz contends that what is equally important is the return of an independent voice to TV.
“The television business is dominated by very big companies and I think independent programming is important. What keeps us independent is we are on the Internet first, and NBC has been accepting of our independence and our creative control. I have to give them credit for bucking the trend with network programming,” he said.
The first episode of the show generated more than 700,000 views online, but following episodes dipped to the neighborhood of 100,000-plus views. Mr. Herskovitz said the first episode generated significantly more views because YouTube posted it on its front page for 48 hours.
With YouTube figures excluded, Mr. Herskovitz said each episode is averaging about 100,000 to 150,000 views on MySpace and Quarterlife. com, with about 30,000 to 35,000 of those coming from Quarterlife.com.
“There was no marketing budget. This has all been word of mouth, and word of mouth takes a while,” he said.
Across all distribution partners, the show generated 3 million views in November and December.
To succeed on TV, the show will need to hold on to the early samplers, Mr. Oscar said. “Whatever big bump they get on TV, they’ll need to do a better job keeping them. When the hype and the advertising dies down, can it carry its own weight and support itself?”
AT A GLANCE
Name: Marshall Herskovitz
Date of birth: Feb. 23, 1952
Place of birth: Philadelphia
Who knew? “I’ve always been obsessed by the Vikings. I even have an authentic Viking sword hanging on the wall in my office.”
Name: Edward Zwick
Date of birth: Oct. 8, 1952
Place of birth: Chicago
Who knew? Plays ragtime banjo, enjoys English Premiership football and can win at ping-pong with either hand.
What to watch for: The wild card for “Quarterlife” will be whether it can sustain and grow an audience on TV, as well as the Internet. Will NBC be patient with the show if it’s not an instant ratings draw?