Taking a page from rival Netflix’s playbook, Hulu is diving into the scripted originals business.
The online video site will kick off its scripted foray with Battleground, a series set in the world of political campaigns from 500 Days of Summer’s Marc Webb and actor-turned-director JD Walsh. It will join a second season of Morgan Spurlock’s A Day in the Life documentary series and Richard Linklater’s historical travel show Up To Speed, along with a vast portfolio of existing episodes of TV shows, which is still the core of Hulu’s $420 million revenue business.
“We’ve developed a lot of relationships with great content owners and we see stories that aren’t getting told because they haven’t found a home for whatever reason,” Hulu’s senior vice president of content Andy Forssell told The Hollywood Reporter of his inspiration.
He added, “We’ll look for content that’s beloved not beliked. The content that really pays off and punches above its weight in our ecosystem is a show that somebody’s going to see and then they want to go email five of their friends or get on Facebook and post about it.”
The news comes mere days after chief executive Jason Kilar disclosed Hulu’s financials and growth to date. In a widely read blog post, he stated that his site’s $7.99-a-month paid service can now lay claim to north of 1.5 million subscribers and its 2012 plan is to shell out $500 million for content.
Hulu made headlines half a year earlier when it chose to pick up Spurlock’s doc series, which offered first-hand accounts of Richard Branson, Girl Talk and will.i.am’s day. When it returns in March, the series will spend time with such stars as Community’s Joel McHale, comedian Marc Maron and UFC fighter Jason “Mayhem” Miller.
“As a filmmaker, I think the partnership with Hulu has been an innovative and valuable way for me to connect my stories with an engaged and passionate audience,” noted Spurlock, who shares producer duties with his partner Jeremy Chilnick.
For its part, Battleground, the brainchild of Walsh, is set in the battleground state of Wisconsin, the childhood home of long-time friends Walsh and Webb. Shot in a faux documentary-style, the workplace dramedy goes behind-the-scenes with an unruly group of campaign workers and volunteers living life on the campaign trail.
“Nobody’s going to dislike this series. They’ll either like it or they won’t care about it,” said Forssell, adding: “I think for the people that love it, it will be their secret band that they’ve got to go tell their friends about, and we love that. We look for that because we can add value; we can be a difference maker there.”
The project, which also counts Hagai Shaham as an executive producer, stars Jay Harden, Teri Reeves, Jack DeSana, Ben Samuel, Lindsey Payne, Jordan T. Maxwell and G4’s Alison Haislip. It will launch with weekly episodes on February 14, strategically timed to roll out in the midst of GOP primary season. Forssell declined to discuss the project’s budget, but suggested Hulu would be spending less than the traditional networks.
Up To Speed, from Dazed and Confused and Before Sunset’s Linklater, will follow host, philosopher and tour guide Timothy “Speed” Levitch as he helps viewers discover the historic nooks and crannies of famed locations around the country. Linklater has inked a deal to direct six episodes.
Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com; Twitter: @LaceyVRose