The first thing I notice about Marshall Herskovitz is he's the worst writer to ever appear on Slate. The creator of "My So-Called Life," explaining how he moved from TV to the Internet and back to TV, starts the story of his show Quarterlife with a feudalism metaphor. He then switches to an even poorer sea metaphor: "If, as they say, it's a vast sea of information, the first thing to realize is that this sea is only accessible from certain harbors called browsers, like Internet Explorer or Safari." Also web sites are boats and the sea is invisible! This guy really knows his audience. What makes this so painful is that Marshall successfully left TV, started a popular web show, kept ownership, sold the show to NBC (because while the Internet is the future, TV is still where the money is), still kept creative control setting a positive network TV precedent, and thus changed the future for thousands of indie creators. But in a terrible way, because Marshall Herskovitz hates online video.
"Some interesting work is out there, for sure, like The Burg, but not a lot," he says. "And most of it is simply incompetence and ignorance masquerading as an 'Internet style.'" And so is most TV, but Marshall must mean more or he wouldn't make that point. He's discounting all of Super Deluxe, College Humor, independent shows like Clark and Michael, and the raunchy cartoon Meth Minute (published by another employer of mine).
Marshall's show? Not so good! The latest episode starts with the same type of mixed metaphors Marshall uses in Slate, such as "I don't remember being elected your babysitter." Then some theme music, crying, and an argument made of Gillmore Girls outtakes:
Even Marshall admits the promotion of the show was traditional: They were heavily promoted on MySpace, and Marshall even figured out the trick of using pretty girls in underwear for an episode's preview thumbnail, a method usually known as "incompetence and ignorance masquerading as an 'Internet style.'"
But Marshall believes Quarterlife's success came from his creative decisions: The show came out in eight-minute episodes, which he thinks is revolutionary because he never watched Clark and Michael or pretty much anything on iTunes. The site has an official fan forum where anyone snide is "carted away screaming," which Marshall again finds new because he's never visited the fansite for a TV show.
Marshall's not stupid; it took a lot of skill to market his show and convince NBC to give him full creative control. And that's great news for creators. But in doing so, he's changed the Great American Internet Dream. It was just about to evolve from "make a good web show, get famous on TV" to "make a good web show, get famous without TV." Now many indie creators will water down their work to make it palatable for NBC and other buyers. Hollywood exiles will spend their budgets not on promising fresh creators but on Quarterlife clones. Thank god Super Deluxe, College Humor and their competitors are already out there offering a better way.