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Quarterlife: Beating the Corporate Suits or Joining Them?

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After spending nearly, like, a whole entire week as a web-only series, Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick’s quarterlife has been signed up on NBC as a TV series to start in February.

The big irony here, as I robo-wrote last week, is that Herskovitz wrote an impassioned L.A. Times editorial earlier this month that aligned the hyperearnest web show with the angry spirit of the Writers’ Guild strike. He and his partner created the series for the Web, he said, because corporate control of network series has become stifling, and because by owning more of their own work, creators can become more, um, creative. That, and the fact that ABC rejected an earlier version of the show in 2005.

The strike ended up being a publicity bonanza for the launch of quarterlife, since it provided a news peg for dozens of stories that hailed it as an alternative entertainment and a possible new model for TV creation. (The handful of actual reviews were mostly unimpressed, though they gave it extra points for having good production values for a web show.) “Make no mistake,” Herskovitz wrote, “deep resentment in the entire creative community over the absolute power now wielded by these companies is the fuel that feeds the strike.”

But quarterlife’s makers are not so enraged that they’re unwilling to make a deal with one of these absolute-power-wielding companies. And–further irony here–one has to assume that a big reason NBC wanted to make the deal at all is that it’s searching everywhere for non-WGA programming, so that they can weather the strike. No strike = no desperation = probably, no TV sale for quarterlife.

Now I’m not saying that Herskovitz and Zwick are hypocrites. They’re just doing what they said they would: creating a series that they own themselves, so that they can sell it under favorable terms and develop an alternative to signing away the rights to big media companies. They’ve done that–and how!–and good for them. But considering that it undoubtedly will help NBC bolster its strike-era schedule, it kind of takes the edge off all that Norma Rae rhetoric. Ah, what a difference a week makes! [Update: Herskovitz makes his argument to Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily as to why the sale is Good for the Writers.]

That said, if this deal works out, it will be good for TV, offering a second chance for better rejected shows in the future. But it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of web video: other than money, why do web series need to be validated by “real” deals with “real” TV, anyway?

As for quarterlife itself, it won’t get the kid-gloves treatment from TV critics once it’s no longer a novel online business plan but rather just another TV show. But hey, networks foist mediocre series on us all the time. At least this time, the creators will own a bigger piece of it. Better them than Jeff Zucker.