I don't watch TV, I make TV," says Marshall Herskovitz. "I don't do what other people do. I do what I do and I do it the same way, whether it's film or TV or the internet."

Herskovitz and partner Ed Zwick - who between them have writing, producing and directing credits including seminal TV series thirtysomething and My So-Called Life and features Blood Diamond, Traffic and The Last Samurai - have one of the most talked-about shows on the web.

Quarterlife, a series designed especially for the web, made headlines last month when it was picked up for US broadcast by the NBC network, the first time a made-for-the-web show has made the leap.

Most internet viewers watch repeats of material made originally for broadcast; now these TV veterans are leading the charge to reverse that process, and turning their backs on the medium that made them.

In the 20 years since thirtysomething, suggests Herskovitz, the broadcast networks have been exerting more and more control over the creative process - to the medium's detriment and to the consternation of writer-producers like him and Zwick.

Hence Quarterlife, which follows a coterie of aspiring young artists in their pursuit of happiness.

The first thing the partners did was break the web's so-called rules, particularly the one about short attention spans. "We made certain assumptions that may or may not be correct," Herskovitz explains. "One, good entertainment is good entertainment no matter the platform. Two, there will always be a hunger for stories that are emotionally compelling. And three, there's a place for that kind of entertainment on the internet. So with that assumption, it's hard to do episodes that are two minutes long." Each episode of Quarterlife is broken into six pieces, approximately eight minutes in length.

They also broke an older rule: they own the show, lock, stock and barrel. This autonomy does not come cheap. Herskovitz says he has not earned "a dime" in the past 18 months while spending "a lot" of his own money. He will not say how much an episode of Quarterlife costs but he gives a hint. The average hour-long TV drama costs $2m-$2.5m per episode. An internet production would spend $50,000-$100,000. "We (cost) way more than that," says Herskovitz, "and way less than a TV show."

Part of Quarterlife's appeal is the web community the producers have cultivated. While interactivity - that is, the viewer engaging in the story - is one of the hallmarks of web-based entertainment, Quarterlife aims to do something perhaps more interesting: engage the viewer with the storytelling process.

"As people put up videos, blogs and photos," Herskovitz explains, "if we find story lines and put them in the show, we will use those ideas, credit people and pay them. So it's participatory rather than interactive."

It is also breaking the rules.