The Three Strike Rule: “Quarterlife”: What happened?

Written by Television, The Three Strike Rule

quarterlifeQuarterlife, a show I praised back in January, premiered on NBC this past Tuesday. It was anything but a success for the network or the show’s producers; in fact, NBC experienced its worst ratings in 20 years for that Tuesday night timeslot. The ratings were so abysmal, Quarterlife was canceled after one airing. It didn’t even make it to its scheduled night, Sunday. This is a rare case in which you can’t really blame the network. The marketing department had every entertainment magazine covering the premiere. Even Newsweek gave it exposure, dedicating a full page to an interview with the show’s creators. So what the hell went wrong?

First of all, Quarterlife had the misfortune of airing opposite the final debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The target audience for Quarterlife (and I’m just going out on a limb here) consists of primarily the same people who will be deciding between Obama and Clinton. I’d wager to say that most of the tech-savvy twentysomethings who would be interested in Quarterlife are more focused in how their candidate did on Tuesday night than the navel-gazing of he characters on Quarterlife.

Another factor I fear may have hurt Quarterlife‘s chances is the demographics the creators are aiming for. If they wanted to attract young adults in their early-to-mid 20’s, I have news for them: those people aren’t watching television. Hell, all they have to do is watch one episode of Quarterlife to realize that people of this age are active professionally, politically and socially. Who has time for TV when there are drinks to be drunk, rallies to carry signs at, and hours to be spent at the office? That leaves people thirty and older (or teenagers, ha!) to watch the show. Unlike previous efforts from Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, this series does not feature a wide range of characters. And unlike the guilty, soap opera aspect of, say, a Melrose Place, Quarterlife is a damn serious show. It basically is thirtysomething for gen X, or Y, or whatever that generation is labeled. I’d bet that even if Quarterlife had aired on a youth-oriented network like the CW, it would have failed (though the CW would have given it a couple more airings –  come on, NBC).

Unfortunately for Quarterlife, the general public will never have a chance to see the characters grow past their whiny selves in the pilot. Then again, anyone can watch new episodes every Thursday and Sunday, when original 11-15 minute segments premiere online. Personally, I have gotten used to seeing the show in these small chapters. As I sat and watched the network version of Quarterlife, I kept waiting for the show to end. This went on for the entire hour — I was actually thrown when watching it. Since this was a series about the computer generation, shows on the Internet, I believe the true audience for the show was always going to be online. I fear now that the show has tanked on the network, the prospects of it continuing online are dim. I hope I’m wrong, because I still believe in it, and Lord knows Herskovitz and Zwick are geniuses.

What does this mean for the future of shows moving from the Internet to television? Most likely it’s a setback. I think the networks are going to be wary of experimenting so soon after this letdown. But when another show backed by A-list talent comes along, something with broader appeal (probably a comedy or another damn procedural) I think we’ll see a network take a chance.