The Right Size For 'Quarterlife'

It's the TV programming version of a whiplash:  NBC's "Quarterlife."

First it was on MySpace, then MTV, then NBC, and now onto Bravo --all in the space of what seems like a week.

That's the quick life of an Internet darling.

"Quarterlife," which started as a series of shorts about a blogger and her friends, is now just a reminder that TV content needs to fit into the correct size -- maybe as a half-life, or three-quarters life.

The lesson learned here is that niche, small-ish TV projects should stay that way.  Marshall Herskovitz, co-creator of the show, put it simply: "It's too specific... from the first three minutes, I knew it wasn't right." Herskovitz, speaking to a group at a Harvard Business School conference Wednesday, said it wasn't a network show.

One wonders: Does this go for "Real World," "The Daily Show," "The Sopranos," a Bobby Flay cooking program, "SportsCenter," "The Closer," and "Project Runway"?

In one recent column I wondered whether cable TV shows were just the farm teams of the bigger broadcast networks.  "Dexter" on CBS did modest numbers. Soon NBC will try its luck with "Monk" and "Psych."

There's plenty of money to be made in the niche TV world -- a world that still doesn't include the big four networks because they are just not ready yet.

This may include the likes of the CW, which now, in its second year of operation, continues with its growing pains. Having a network devoted to young women is a good idea. But didn't the WB also go that route, with better ratings, only to wind up in the red?

Cable networks, however, have a different model - one that includes affiliate fees and advertising revenues. Niche works there.

Still, give NBC's Ben Silverman some credit. He was using the cable programming model -- it was a low-cost attempt. And, as a last place network, why not experiment?

Well, now we know.  Broadcast networks still need big shows, with big ideas, and big, diverse audiences until... whenever the time those channels become small. People have been predicting that for 20 years.

So, in the meantime, get cozy, grab an extra bowl of chips  -- and a neck brace.



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