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Did Ben Silverman End-Run The WGA?/Battlestar, Office, 30 Rock, Casts Suspended

Yesterday NBC announced a deal to acquire the Internet series Quarterlife.   The show, which is Friends-meets-blogging, follows the lives a six creative twenty-somethings, as seen through the blog of lead character and aspiring writer Dylan Krieger.

According to the NY Times:  "Ben Silverman, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, and one of the shows creators, Marshall Herskovitz, described the deal as a revolutionary step in the creation of television entertainment."

The series will air on NBC as an hour-long drama, probably starting in February.  Episodes, broken into eight minute segments, will first air on the Internet in advance of the broadcast debut.

The timing of the NBC deal is curious since Quarterlife just launched on the web this week.  Quarterlife migrated to the web after ABC rejected the pilot (titled 1/4life) several years ago.  (Both of these details were not cited by the NY Times.)

Stated the NYT: the series is "not affected by the writers’ strike because of the unique ownership structure."

NBC will pay a license fee which, according to the NYT, the creators claim is less than what broadcast nets traditionally pay for "conventional shows."

Also per the NYT, Marshall Herskoviz and his “longtime partner Ed Zwick” started the series and the Quarterlife website as “a way to create entertainment that would be free of corporate ownership – and creative interference.”  

The website states it is also intended to be a “community for artists, thinkers, and doers….…. along with community building, [Quarterlife] provides resources in all the areas of life that affect those in their twenties – careers, love, health, finances, education, activism."

NBC Universal recently invested in the website and the terms of the deal gave NBC right of first-refusal (for tv broadcast) on Quarterlife.

Also missing from the NYT blurb was any mention of the Herskovitz/Zwick resume.  The two were the force behind My So-Called Life, thirtysomething, and Once and AgainOnce and Again and My So-Called Life developed wildly loyal audiences, but were cancelled in spite of intense campaigning by fans.

From the Quarterlife “about us” page:

Marshall Herskovitz is directing various episodes, as is Eric Stoltz, John Sacret Young, and Catherine Jelski.

In addition to Herskovitz, Devon Gummersall and Lucy Teitler are also writing for the series.

IMDB lists Zwick as a writer on Quarterlife as well.

At the same time that Silverman was putting the final touches on the Quarterlife deal, Universal Media Studios reportedly papered the industry with force majeure letters, notifying the casts of The Office,Bionic Woman, Battlestar Galactica and others that their contracts were being suspended.   Nikke Finke quotes a BsG cast member as saying:

….We are not terminated. We are on hold to BSG with no pay in perpetuity until the strike is over. When the strike does end Universal/Scifi will then decide whether they want to bring the show back or let us go. Until that time we are in first position with BSG and will have to clear any other project with Scifi/Uni.

They are not following article 61 of the SAG agreement and are about to get a lot of calls from SAG lawyers.  They say that since we have shot the minimum 13 episodes of this season, as per our contracts, that they are under no obligation to pay us or let us go.  We are essentially on hiatus. To say yesterday was a tough day on set as this information was slowly presented to us would be a profound understatement.

Click here to read Finke’s Deadline Hollywood Daily post about the suspensions.

TV Guide via Reuters Canada delves into more contractual details here.

UPDATEfrom Reuters, re: Quarterlife -  A WGA spokesman had no immediate comment, saying the Guild was currently checking into the matter

UPDATE - Sunday/ 7:55p.m.Nikki Finke says that Zwick and Herskovitz "colleagues" are "incensed" by the duo’s apparent willingness to strike a deal with NBC at this time.

UPDATE - Sunday/11:55 p.m.   A debate ensues.  Herskovitz responds and Finke posts his message in full.

UPDATE - Monday Morning (early)Hollywood Reporter’s Andrew Wallenstein writes:"Quarterlife" is the farthest thing from a conceptual fit for the Internet… is slicing itself into multi-minute bits and covering itself in social networking in order to fit in with the cool kids online.

But beneath its new-media exterior lurks the same insecure geek just trying to fit in somewhere after being rejected by the girl who once loved it: the broadcast business.

And now, in an ironic twist, NBC is bringing Quarterlife to primetime. Were the TV industry not in dire straits, it’s hard to believe the series would have gotten a second look…