Now that three eight-minute episodes have aired, it appears that "Quarterlife" was too good to stay confined to the Web -- at least at a time when the networks are looking at a season that could be starved for content by the Writers Guild of America strike.
NBC programming chief Ben Silverman and series co-creator Marshall Herskovitz said the deal had been finalized before the strike but hadn't been announced in part because no time slot had been set aside.
"Quarterlife" has benefited from reams of favorable press coverage as a pioneer of quality drama on the Web. Created by Herskovitz and Ed Zwick -- who established themselves on broadcast television with such shows as "thirtysomething" and "My So-Called Life" -- the series follows half a dozen friends in their 20s, one of whom courts danger by posting video blogs about the circle.
The episodes have been viewed more than 300,000 times on MySpaceTV.com, which will run the initial 36 episodes.
The series began as a pilot rejected by ABC, but Herskovitz said that he had thoroughly reworked it as a Web project and that it would remain one, continuing to be displayed on Quarterlife.com even after it begins appearing on NBC.
"It will always be an Internet show," Herskovitz said.
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Whatever the timing, outsiders said NBC's move reflected an urgency to pick up shows that don't depend on a contract between the major studios and the writers, including unscripted series and imports.
The "Quarterlife" arrangement is "a great indicator of just how desperate we networks and studios are," said a development executive at another network.
The networks would be likely to pick through more offerings on the Web were they nearly as good, said Chris Coelen, who heads RDF USA, an independent maker of such reality shows as ABC's "Wife Swap."
"If it was already produced, you could potentially have something on-air," Coelen said. "But there's not a lot out there."
Herskovitz said that as an independent, Web-centered production company, his outfit didn't belong to the association of major studios and planned to negotiate a separate agreement with the Writers Guild.
That's a possibility because unlike the vast majority of scripted dramas and comedies airing on the big networks, "Quarterlife" will continue to be 100% owned and controlled by Herskovitz and Zwick. The duo already has a contract with the Screen Actors Guild.
"It's a distribution partnership," Herskovitz said of the NBC deal. "It enables us to go where we couldn't have gone before," including overseas.
A Writers Guild spokesman declined to comment. In previous strikes, the union has approved some interim labor agreements for independent studios seen as friendly to the cause.
Silverman said the undisclosed millions that NBC would pay were far less than it usually spent on shows. NBC also skipped the cost of development and the associated risks.
"We feel that with the buzz and the sampling, the audience that will be consuming the show online in its shorter form will also come and watch the show in a more traditional prime-time broadcast format," Silverman said.
He said he believed that group would be joined by "the audience that may have just heard about" the show because of its unusual history.
Silverman said NBC was also investing in Quarterlife.com, which Herskovitz and Zwick are trying to develop as a social networking site.