TV veterans to launch online sitcom Sunday

Scott Michael Foster, who plays Jed Berland and Michelle Lombardo, who plays Debra Locatelli, is shown with director, writer and quarterlife co-creator Marshall Herskovitz during the shooting of the pilot on location in Los Angeles. quarterlife, Elisabeth Caren

AP

Scott Michael Foster, who plays Jed Berland and Michelle Lombardo, who plays Debra Locatelli, is shown with director, writer and “quarterlife” co-creator Marshall Herskovitz during the shooting of the pilot on location in Los Angeles. quarterlife, Elisabeth Caren

By Frazier Moore

NEW YORK – In a 15-year period on broadcast television, the producing team of Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick dramatized three decades of the modern human lifespan.

Age-signifying “thirtysomething” premiered in 1987, followed by “My So-Called Life” (short-lived yet culturally enduring for its grasp of teenhood), followed by “Once and Again” (which dared to showcase people in their 40s).

Now a new series is here to fill a gap in the continuum.

On “quarterlife,” friends co-exist in their 20s, an anxious realm where your whole life isn’t ahead of you anymore, but one-quarter over (give or take). Artistic urges unite them (the guys are budding filmmakers; one of the gals is a would-be actress), along with their camaraderie, rivalries and a shared belief ably expressed by Dylan, the insecure writer, on her video blog.

“A sad truth about my generation,” she declares, “is that we were all geniuses in elementary school – but apparently the people who deal with us never got our transcripts, because they don’t seem to be aware of it.”

Can Dylan and her friends break through? That’s a central issue of “quarterlife,” and viewers should find the mad scramble entertaining, even more so as it triggers pangs of recognition.

But they won’t find this show on their TV screens. Befitting the Net-centric generation it explores, “quarterlife” will live online.

It premieres on the MySpaceTV Web site on Sunday.

By Monday, it’ll have its own Web site, quarterlife.com.

Two chapters (each about 8 minutes long) will debut each week. Thirty-six chapters have been shot thus far, with more envisioned.

Besides the series, quarterlife.com will host social networking for the creatively inclined – an artists’ colony in cyberspace.

“The members of this generation see themselves as creative people more than anybody, ever,” says Herskovitz, “and not just those who want to be artists as a career. It’s how they look at life.”

The Web site, which he hopes to be both a forum and an information wellspring, will probe “what it means to be a creative person – what are your aspirations and how can you get to the next level?”

All in all, this is quite the departure for Herskovitz, a 55-year-old veteran of broadcast television as well as feature films (including “Blood Diamond” and “Traffic”). The Emmy and Humanitas Prize winner began plotting it out after his original “quarterlife” pilot was turned down by ABC three years ago.

Still fascinated by the twentysomething experiences of the young people working in his production office, he decided to take another stab at a script. “We would talk to them every day and hear about their pursuits and difficulties,” he says, “and we were inspired by that.” He rewrote “quarterlife” from scratch with a new approach and different story.

Meanwhile, he realized that the Internet, not television, was the proper outlet.

The TV business has changed, says Herskovitz, and the kind of storytelling he and Zwick are known for “doesn’t really have a place on network television anymore. We don’t have car chases, or make a habit of life-and-death situations. Our particular penchant for telling stories truthfully about relationships isn’t necessarily compatible with the texture of television today.”

So he set out not only to create a new series but also a Web site that could give his series the ideal home.

He spent what he says is “an enormous amount of my own money” while he sought advertisers and forged the deal with MySpace owner News Corp.

He looked for ways to retain TV-caliber production values while trimming costs, resulting in “a hybrid model that’s way more expensive than anything that’s ever been done on the Internet” – more than $400,000 per hour, he says – “and way cheaper than anything currently being done on TV,” where per-episode budgets can exceed $3 million.

He signed an impressive cast of relative unknowns including Bitsie Tulloch, Maite Schwartz, Scott Michael Foster, David Walton, Michelle Lombardo, Kevin Christy and Barrett Swatek – “wonderful actors,” he says, who, committing to a speculative project for modest pay, seem in tune with the spirit of the characters they play.

And in a few days he will throw the door open to viewers of all ages, including fans of Herskovitz and Zwick’s TV work who might not otherwise turn to the Internet for drama – especially a drama about twentysomething angst.

“But plenty of grown-ups watched ‘My So-Called Life’ and were moved by it,” notes Herskovitz. “We try always to do something that’s universal. I can’t imagine that just because you’re in your 50s you wouldn’t find things in this story that are stimulating.”

Clearly, Herskovitz does.

“That period in my life was extremely important to me, very formative,” he says, sounding psyched to have the chance to reconnect. “It makes me feel invigorated and young!”

On the Net:

www.quarterlife.com

www.myspaceTV.com