RIP Quibi, a Mess That Had More Talent Than It Knew What to Do With (Column)

Caroline Framke
·3 min read

Well before Quibi debuted, it seemed inevitable that the service was doomed. Sure, it didn’t help that a streaming platform dedicated to short-form videos had the incredible misfortune to drop during a global pandemic that confined millions to their homes with way more time than they knew what to do with. But it only took a few minutes skimming through the app to understand that Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s very concept of Quibi was flawed, pandemic or no. With no immediate ability to watch content on anything but a phone screen, no thought of letting viewers screenshot shows in order to share them, and no compelling answer to “isn’t this just expensive YouTube?”, Quibi didn’t have a grasp on what its audience might want until well after it launched.

In recent weeks, as the writing on the wall got clearer and clearer, it’s been easy to mock the death of Quibi and its “quick bites.” But looking back over its programming, and the many people who now find themselves without jobs during an unprecedented moment of instability, it’s also sad and frustrating to realize how much talent and potential the Quibi experiment wasted along its way to irrelevance.

When Quibi first launched, its slate looked like a grab bag of random attempts to catch people’s interest. And yet, looking past its splashier big ticket items — Liam Hemsworth in the plodding drama “Most Dangerous Game,” the stomach-turning Sophie Turner vehicle “Survive,” Chrissy Teigen entertaining petty squabbles on “Chrissy’s Court” — revealed some decent show concepts, were they fortunate enough to air on an actual television.

For instance: “Flipped,” starring Kaitlin Olson and Will Forte, was a decently funny sitcom that felt too chopped up in its Quibi-sized eight minute segments. “Nightgowns,” from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner Sasha Velour, spotlighted queer New York City artists with such care and attention to detail that it felt a real shame to watch their inventive acts on a tiny phone screen. Of the MTV reboots that made it to Quibi, the looser take on “Singled Out” — co-hosted by walking fonts of charisma Keke Palmer and Joel Kim Booster — was genuine fun, and the “Reno 911!” revival retained the original’s chaotic bounce. Programs from “The Nod” podcast and a micro “60 Minutes” team kept the news and information side relevant. Even original reality star Nicole Richie found new life in “Nikki Fre$h,” a sharp satirical comedy starring Richie as a version of herself who tries, and fails, to embody Gwyneth Paltrow’s sanguine Goop philosophy while also pursuing a rap career. There was a lot of puzzling flotsam in the Quibi pool, but there were enough gems to make their loss a real shame.

And on a more pragmatic, personal level, that holds doubly true for every production attached to Quibi. The platform’s sudden shutdown reportedly took just about everyone creating #content for it by surprise; even if they suspected that Quibi might be on its last legs, they heard about its final defeat through news reports and Katzenberg and Whitman’s Medium mea culpa. However much Quibi was destined to collapse, the many people working to bolster it are now without work at a time when they truly need it. So make no mistake: Quibi isn’t just a failure of imagination, but a business failure that has now officially taken down too much work and talent along with it.

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