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Soapbox: Is Quarterlife a Synonym for Selling Out?

For most of my TV-watching life, I've defined myself as a fan of Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, the producing team behind Relativity, Once and Again, and, of course, My So-Called Life. I remember reading about their latest project, Quarterlife, several years ago, back when it was still an ABC pilot awkwardly titled 1/4life. I was bummed when it didn't make the network's schedule, and I was happy to hear the show was finally surfacing online.

So the news that NBC has picked up Quarterlife should thrill me. Instead, I'm confused and a little annoyed.

My problems have little to do with Quarterlife itself. I don't think the show is great — some of the stilted dialogue makes it clear that the show is written by folks who don't spend much time around twentysomethings — but it's good enough to keep me watching. What bugs me is Herskovitz and Zwick's attitude about the whole thing: promoting themselves as revolutionary and anti-TV, then running back as soon as TV called. There's more to my thinking — including a potentially good side to this arrangement — so just read more

I believed Herskovitz's recent Los Angeles Times op-ed, where he wrote that television was a poisoned environment that stifled all creativity. I was excited to see how two respected producers could shake things up by working outside the system. And then, the system beckoned, and they fell into its arms. The most cynical part of me thinks it seems like suspiciously convenient timing, what with the writers' strike knocking so much other programming and limiting the networks' store of original, quality series.

But there's another side, though it's harder for me to believe it right now. It's the one Herskovitz pointed out recently: They're still doing something unprecedented. NBC shouldn't have anything to do with editing Quarterlife; the network is supposedly buying it to air as-is, leaving Herskovitz and Zwick — who are continuing to work as producers during the strike — in complete creative control.

Really? I guess we'll see when the TV version of Quarterlife starts to air, which could be as soon as this spring if the strike continues. Maybe this really will be a new era where shows stay in the hands of the people who make them. Or maybe I'll look back and think these two producers just sold out.


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