Opening night for NBC’s new Millennial-targeted series, Quarterlife, was an unparalleled disaster.
The drama series which made headlines about its transition from internet to TV, “Quarterlife,” succeeded in being a flop in its NBC debut Tuesday night, having the worst ratings in at least 20 years, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The brazilian-dollar question now becomes: what happened?
Let me begin by saying that I’m operating in the dark here. I haven’t seen any of the Web episodes and I didn’t see the TV debut. So this is about questions, not answers. That said, let’s offer some possible theories:
- Theory 1 – The show sucks: My trusted colleague Cody Barstow over at Mojo City News saw some of the Webisodes and warned me some time back that this was not a good show. However, the project enjoyed significant success online, so there was reason to be hopeful. Obviously folks at NBC were sold – at least before last night’s numbers rolled in – but it’s possible that the failure here is simply about quality.
- Theory 2 – The Web and TV are just different media: This is obviously true, at a surface level. If you’ve read McLuhan, you know way too much to expect any two media to function the same way. But the hope here seemed to be that since we were talking about essentially televisual content that Web success would translate into the living room. Didn’t happen, at least not this time. Which could possibly mean that success online is an inherent function of the medium, which is, after all, the message.
- Theory 3 – It was poorly marketed: This explanation seems implausible. Quarterlife enjoyed enough online success that there should have been a significant amount of viral buzz, and I know I saw a zillion commercials promoting the show. Quantity ≠ quality, of course, so maybe it was promoted enough, but ineffectively. Still, if this is true, then it would suggest that online viral success is meaningless in the traditional media world, right?
- Theory 4 – The networks are in deep, deep trouble: If none of the above are true (and maybe even if they are), we could have just seen the most terrifying moment any TV exec has ever faced. This show was built around an archetypal Millennial generation condition, the “quarter-life crisis,” and was apparently designed to be the thirtysomething-meets-Friends of the emerging youth generation.
Lots of research shows that Millennials relate to media in ways unlike preceding generations, and one of the key lessons is that younger viewers are less engaged with traditional media than any other. If these findings are accurate – and I see little reason to think they aren’t – then what we had last night was perhaps a chilling foreshadowing of the future. A network made a massive effort to develop programming designed specifically for this market, and the market responded with a collective yawn.
I’m not so silly as to pronounce television dead this morning because there are just too many ifs and the variables outnumber the constants considerably. It’s like an election, where 1% of the precincts are reporting. The fact that you’ve received zero votes doesn’t mean you’ve lost, but it’s not encouraging news, either.
I will say this much: if my career over the next 20 years or so hinged in any way on how effectively TV can reach Millennials, I’d be a little edgy right about now.