Why Web video isn't ready for prime time after all

Quarterlife, the stapled-together-for-prime-time Web-video series about twentynothing artists, flopped so hard that NBC is kicking it off the team. It sucked in a measly 3.1 million viewers during its NBC debut last night — half what programs on ABC and CBS pulled. As penance, "Quarterlife" will be riding the pine on Bravo's minor-league roster. Ben Silverman, cochairman of NBC Entertainment, described the original deal to bring Quarterlife to the airwaves as a "revolutionary step in the creation of television." In retrospect, it's easy to say he should never have bought the show, if only because watching Quarterlife makes me want to punch myself in the face. But would any other Web video have fared better. Perhaps, if NBC had followed this playbook:

  • Pick a more accessible topic. Folks who opt to sit home watching television on a Wednesday night, instead of enjoying a recreational pastime like drinking, know what the Internet is. They just don't care about it like the readers of 4chan or Quarterlife's Web viewers do. Prime-time fare needn't be lowbrow, but it should be accessible.
  • Make ads that entice. Quarterlife promo campaign, the 14-word version: Walking talking hugging flashes to a website really stupid quip eating more hugging grunt. It's hard to make typing at a keyboard and looking at a screen exciting, but NBC's marketing team didn't even try.
  • Leave it on the Web. For the Internet, Quarterlife still counts as a hit. Even cocreator Marshall Herskovitz says, in hindsight, that he didn't think it could survive on network TV. Why didn't NBC just toss it on Hulu, where it belongs? It would have been cheaper, and possibly more profitable.