''quarterlife'' graduates to NBC -- How will the Internet series fare in prime-time?

One fan describes how he assembles avatars that look like the characters on his new favorite show. Another alienates real-life friends by likening them to the fictional ones he’s grown to love. There’s talk of playing episodes ”over and over again looking for new stuff.” Oh, and in case you were wondering? This series has yet to air a single episode over broadcast television.

When quarterlife debuts on NBC on Feb. 26, it will be the first show to jump from the Internet to prime-time TV. The creation of producers Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick (My So-Called Life), quarterlife has streamed 30 eight-minute angsty installments about a group of twentysomethings since November. NBC is airing them as six hour-long episodes — right before the big guns return to finish their strike-addled seasons.

And the two dudes who are behind this venture: They’re in their 50s. ”We had this running joke that one day two kids from North-western were going to put a movie out on their own site and make all the studios irrelevant,” says Herskovitz. ”Then we said, ‘Let’s be those two kids.”’ Ironically, quarterlife has very traditional roots. It began as a pilot for ABC in 2005 and languished until Herskovitz and Zwick retooled the concept with a vaguely meta bent (the main character video-blogs her friends’ lives), invested their own money, and threw the whole shebang online. New NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman snatched it up for his network when he landed his gig. ”You look at Cloverfield, which opened huge,” he says. ”And they clearly were aided by all the buzz created online.” Adds series star Bitsie Tulloch (who appeared in Internet hit lonelygirl15), ”Think about the generation in their early 20s. It’s the first to grow up on the Internet. I don’t think anyone’s capitalized on that as both subject matter and platform.” As such, quarterlife watchers obsessively track online news about the show, delight in its minutiae, and slam anyone who disses the series. And message-board junkie Herskovitz (a.k.a. mshersk) is typing right along with them. ”I’m utterly addicted,” he says.

Still, all this passion may not translate into ratings. During its first three months, the show logged about 6 million total views — that’s roughly 207,000 per installment, or about one quarter of the viewers who watch the lowest-rated network series. Of course, nobody’s sure how to measure on-air ”success” for quarterlife. ”I have high hopes for the show,” says Silverman. ”But I don’t know. It’s experimental.” So experimental, in fact, that it will likely survive even without a second-season renewal — a huge relief to a production team that knows from premature cancellation. (RIP, Once and Again!) ”I hope we’re a huge hit on NBC,” says Herskovitz, ”but if we’re not, I’m prepared.” Translation: He’ll be right there on the message boards, looking for solace.