Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz are undertaking an ambitious new-media project that will see them revive onetime ABC pilot “Quarterlife” and distribute it via MySpace, as well as create their own social-networking site.
Duo will produce and variously write and direct episodes of the show, which centers on twentysomethings grappling with life and love in Chicago.
In conjunction with the television project, Herskovitz and Zwick are set to launch Quarterlife.com, a social-networking site that will bring together the 18- to 34-year-olds around topics ranging from career to romance to the arts.
With the MySpace deal, Zwick and Herskovitz become two of the most established Hollywood producer-creators to try an Internet-only project. Their series will test most directly the Web 2.0 idea that with the right talent and partners, creators can circumvent traditional networks or studios.
“This come from a long-standing frustration with where the business of television has gone in the last 10 years,” Herskovitz said in an interview. “Ed and I have a great interest in being independent, and for several years, we’ve realized the Internet offers that possibility.”
A total of 36 episodes, each running about eight minutes, will be made available. MySpace will have a 24-hour window to run the show, followed by a window for Quarterlife.com as well as possible distribution on sites such as YouTube and iTunes.
Show will be available as a free ad-supported stream, with sponsors currently being lined up.
Creators say the show is conceived and shot like a traditional hourlong drama that will simply be shown in smaller chunks. First episode is set to bow Nov. 11on MySpace.
The “Quarterlife” concept was born three years ago when ABC ordered a pilot for the show dubbed “1/4life,” which told the story of the twentysomethings, including a magazine editor who gets in hot water when she blogs about her co-workers. Disney’s Touchstone TV and duo’s Bedford Falls banner produced.
ABC never picked up the show, and the project was thought dead.
But Herskovitz said he and Zwick have been working on overhauling the ideas and waiting for the right distribution model to come along.
The two have now retooled the concept, he said, with the blog element only one of many subplots; the many characters now include filmmakers, bartenders and geeks. “It’s really an ensemble drama,” he said, “in the manner of ‘thirtysomething’ or ‘My So-Called Life’ ” — shows he and Zwick exec produced.
A new cast has also been chosen, with Bitsie Tulloch replacing Shiri Appleby as the lead. About one hour of material, or six episodes, have been shot.
Zwick and Herskovitz are in the process of lining up writers and directors; Herskovitz directed, and the pair co-wrote the first hour.
Both MySpace and Herskovitz stressed MySpace will simply be a distributor, with Zwick/Herskovitz owning the production entirely.
For the pair, the move is a gamble that the added creative control will be worth the tradeoff in budgets. Herskovitz acknowledged that while budgets will run higher than with most Web-original projects, they will come in lower than on similar TV productions.
Pair could mine the Quarterlife.com site for potential writers and ideas for the show and will also dip their toes into the user-generated model by making scripts and episodes available on the site for suggestions and mashups.
The duo will also own the Quarterlife.com site. CAA, which reps the pair and which has been selling ads for the show, could ultimately get a small equity stake in the site, Herskovitz said.
For MySpace, “Quarterlife” offers the possibility of added buzz and a boost to the original-entertainment unit, which has found itself battling with a number of videocentric new-media companies.
The News Corp. unit has dabbled in original projects before via Web series such as Michael Eisner’s “Prom Queen,” but its willingness to make this deal signals a growing interest in exclusive pacts with creators. “Our users are telling us, through their actions and their messaging to us, that they love this kind of content,” MySpace TV topper Jeff Berman said.
Company will concentrate on marketing mainly to its own users but said that with a large built-in base — it puts its global user number at 110 million — that should yield a broad potential audience.
Herskovitz and Zwick are the creators of a host of high-end primetime dramas with devoted fan bases, including, most recently, ABC’s “Once and Again,” though lately they have been more active on the theatrical front with pics including “Blood Diamond” and “The Last Samurai.”
The pair are clearly looking for other ways to produce serialized content; Herskovitz was critical of changes in the television biz, which he said has seen an increase in note-giving and micromanaging.
“When Ed and I did ‘My So-Called Life’ and ‘thirtysomething,’ the network barely gave us any notes,” Herskovitz said. “Now I have friends tell me that the network tells them what color to make the walls.”