Why quarterlife was Such a Bomb

quarterlife, the much-hyped new series from the creators of such shows as thirtysomething, Once and Again and the eternal My So-Called Life, debuted a couple of nights ago to what some are calling “the worst ratings in 20 years.”

I don’t think that this was what NBC had in mind when they announced that they had picked it up from, er, MySpace amidst a busload of hype. Given the fact that it had a pretty high profile and was debuted during a time where there is very little serious drama being broadcast, their expectations must have been that it would at least hold its own.

And yet it failed, miserably. Why? The flip answer is that it sucked, but that’s only part of it. The full answer is a bit more complicated.

First off, let’s eliminate the MySpace debut as the sole reason for the failure. That line of reasoning will go as follows: “well, everybody already saw it on MySpace — no need to see it again.” That’s just crazy talk, of course: if anything, the MySpace connection should have whetted the appetite to see it on the bigger screen.

How many people watched those Sarah Silverman / Jimmy Kimmel “I’m Fucking . . .” videos on both the TV and the Web? I’m guessing that the page views for the Sarah Silverman one spiked again as people set their DVRs to watch the Kimmel response after the Oscars.

The point here is that people will watch stuff that they enjoy more than once: the entire TV on DVD / iPod / Streaming Video market proves that. So if millions of people watched quarterlife on the Web and saw the high production values, wouldn’t they want to watch it reconfigured for TV? And tell all of their friends and family about it?

But that obviously didn’t happen — so the Web debut did have a hand in the crazy low ratings. But only because quarterlife, er, sucked.

How do I know that it sucked? Because I was curious and watched the first few episodes on MySpace.

I just didn’t like it: the characters seemed ill-defined and not very interesting, and it seemed like they had huge head starts on their lives, so shut up already and stop whining, already! By this time, I realized that there is always lot of angsty well-off people on the TV shows created by Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, which was why I always hated thirtysomething even while recognizing the overall quality of the show.

But quarterlife didn’t even seem to have that much quality. It just seemed like an angst-filled mess. So after watching a few episodes — they had new ones twice a week — I actually forgot to go to MySpace and check it out, got behind, and decided that I didn’t care enough to catch up. Oh well.

In any event, I wasn’t the only one who thought that it sucked, and that — in a nutshell — was the problem.

By the time it made its debut on NBC, everybody who was interested in it had already seen it, and hardly anybody who had seen it had anything good to say about it. And let me tell you: they said those not-nice things all over the internet, especially on the websites that take TV seriously.

It turns out that the much ballyhooed “internet generation” on which the show tried to piggyback upon was also the instrument of its destruction. There wasn’t anybody left who was interested in even sampling it.

And that’s why quarterlife was such a bomb.

Now it’s entirely possible that they may continue online, and may even get better. Hell, I don’t even think that NBC should cancel it, though they probably will.

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