Score One For the Net

Not many shows get a second chance to succeed. "Quarterlife" is on its third. After ABC rejected the pilot, the show's creators, Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, took it to the Internet, where the series has landed 6 million views in three months. This week NBC begins airing it as well, making this the first show to migrate from the Net to a network. Herskovitz and Zwick—the team behind "Thirtysomething," which "Quarterlife" resembles, but with twentysomethings—spoke to NEWSWEEK's Ramin Setoodeh about the transition and what their show has gained, and lost, in the process.

Herskovitz: What's funny to me is, I consciously set out to make this lighter than the other shows that we've done. And I think it is. When you play this in front of an audience, it gets huge laughs. Yes, one character passes out from pills, but if you look at "The O.C." or a number of shows, a lot more stuff happens than someone passing out.

Zwick: I think it has to do with the texture of the shows. If you're seeing something that's two-dimensional, you can be guarded against the stories.

Zwick: There's a convention of drama which has to do with voice-over. I think we might have been early with it in "My So-Called Life," where we thought the narrator was unreliable. In this, I think we were looking at a whole culture that's presuming to put their life in public in a way that's new and unusual.

Herskovitz: I feel like we're also saying something about this generation and its contradictory feelings about privacy.

Zwick: Maybe you're giving us fodder for another episode.

Herskovitz: One of the first things my daughter said to me before we went live was, "What is the verb going to be for Quarterlife?" I said, "What are you talking about?" She said, "We Facebook people." The verb already exists, Qlife—I Qlifed him. But I know exactly what you're talking about. It just hasn't made it into the show.

Herskovitz: It was a different pilot. There are a lot of reasons why things don't work, and I don't know if it bears that much analysis. I think the easiest way to describe it is that it was a different bunch of people. The people in that original pilot were all lost and confused. It's hard to invest emotionally in people who haven't invested in themselves.

Zwick: I'd say there's an alchemy that happens or doesn't. The stories we create are fragile. If that combustion doesn't take place, it works less well.

Zwick: We looked at each other and said let's take a leap. Let's go against every bit of conventional wisdom, in what one does in the TV or movie business. Let's finance it ourselves. Let's hire everyone we know to work for nothing. Let's shoot it in our office. Let's go out on a limb in the spirit of the same people we're talking about.

Herskovitz: I felt like I was back in film school.

Herskovitz: Yes, we shot in our office. We stripped away everything that wasn't absolutely necessary to the process of filmmaking. This is our next big push. To get across the message, the next season of "Quarterlife," the art on the walls, the clothes people wear, writers, directors, the music, they're all going to come from our community.

Herskovitz: In a way, yes. I'm careful about saying "a user-generated show," because we're using all our expertise to try to make this great. But I'm going to incorporate my users in every possible way that I can.

Herskovitz: Most of casting is damn hard work. With Bitsie, I got really lucky. I met her at jury duty. I had already written this version, I looked at her and thought, Is that Dylan? In the months after, she came in and read with about 40 other people. I knew it was her. She had this quality that's so electric and arresting and completely unique. She's not like anyone else.

Herskovitz: [Laughs] In Los Angeles, you have to sit in this huge room and wait and pray that you're not called. People get quite friendly.

Zwick: I personally feel a little bit thwarted watching it online.

Herskovitz: Oh, shut up! That's Ed. Did you watch it full screen?

Herskovitz: I understand. I think this is one of those areas where nobody knows where we're headed on the Internet. A year ago, when we first suggested this, I was told if I did anything longer than two-minute episodes, I'd be killing my project.