New Age Web Soap Quarterlife.com is DOA
If you haven't heard of Quarterlife.com, an "Internet Series and Social network from Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick" that's been getting tons of credulous press coverage in the past few weeks, it's yet another attempt by old school Network TV/Hollywood types to convince the Web's teeming billions that ersatz (but real looking) serialized drama, marketed stealthily, will be an attractive alternative to the hundred million other things going on in the infinite channel universe.
In other words, Quarterlife is a Web Soap, an expensive ($50,000 per episode) exercise in serialized fakery that's supposed to buy our loyalty away from the user-generated amateurishness of Youtube by giving us something better, "better" meaning content that's scripted, shot with expensive equipment, professionally lit, and powered by big promotional bucks.
Sorry, folks, this one is Dead on Arrival. Web Soaps are among the oldest, tiredest content templates. Remember "The Spot?" "The East Village?" Quarterlife looks better (great lighting), but its higher production values actually work against the grain of the genre. One of the (only) charming thing about LonelyGirl15 was that its production values were low enough for us to believe that this character was real. Quarterlife, however, looks like a network pilot that was simply dumped to the Web after it was turned down by ABC (which is exactly what happened). Its very glossiness makes it unbelievable. Given the broad range of real-life crises being acted out daily on Youtube, Quarterlife's scripted conflicts aren't just unbelievable: they're laughable.
You'll see plenty of hype in the next couple weeks about Quarterlife.com, because its high-visibility producers have plenty of PR flaks to wave the flag for them. I've already seen these guys in the New York Times, heard them on NPR, and elsewhere in the trade press. But it's just the latest go-round of a tired old idea that the smart money had pegged as dead in 1998.
Seems like we're all doomed to learn the same bitter lessons again and again: dolled-up Soap Opera fakery won't cut it on the Web. This is a full-duplex, two-way medium, more like the telephone than the television. Entertainment is experienced as doing, not just watching. Old Media types might think that the Web is filled with empty eyes and empty heads willing to fill their time with the glossy twenty-something nothingness that Quarterlife offers, but they've completely misunderstood this "audience." There is no audience anymore: the Web's eyes are active and in search of actuality, not high-priced Hollywood-style fakery such as Quarterlife.com and its ilk.
Quarterlife.com's tagline is "Figure it out." The tragic thing about this mis-conceived effort is that we did figure it out -- 10 years ago, when Web Soaps failed to gather more than a yawn from the multitudes. I've seen this train wreck before, and it isn't pretty.