In a surprise move, the streamer on Monday released the entire fourth and final season of the drama starring Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer, with the entire series available to watch on the platform.
The announcement comes after The Hollywood Reporter broke the news in May that UnREAL was expected to wrap with season four when first-run episodes of the series moved from Lifetime to Hulu in a new deal with producers A+E Studios. At the time, A+E Studios was leaving the door open for a potential fifth season.
“UnREAL has captivated audiences on Hulu since season one, so when this opportunity came to us, we knew we couldn’t miss out,” said Craig Erwich, senior vp content at Hulu. “This is a unique way to both satisfy fans of the show, while also continuing to introduce it to new audiences.”
Sources told THR in May that the move to first run on Hulu — which has been the SVOD home for the drama from Sarah Gertrude Shapiro and Marti Noxon — came as the streamer was eager to air seasons three and four of the series. (Season three, which ended in April on Lifetime, bowed earlier this month on Hulu.) In making Monday’s announcement, Hulu revealed that subscribers binged three to four episodes of UnREAL in one session and full seasons in a matter of days.
Hulu is said to have paid producers A+E Studios a larger sum than normal for the show’s SVOD rights in order to secure the first window to season four of the drama about the behind-the-scenes antics of a Bachelor-like reality show.
UnREAL, which remains 100 percent fully owned by A+E Studios, may still air on Lifetime, though it is not expected to return until potentially 2019 — if it airs on the female-focused cable network at all. The deal, which is reminiscent of DirecTV’s pact to first air Friday Night Lights before the episodes ran on NBC, also helps A+E Studios generate additional revenue for its low-rated drama.
“We love season four of UnREAL and its visionary creativity in bringing back many favorite characters for an all-star competition. When the opportunity to partner with Hulu arose, we immediately saw the huge benefit to UnREAL’s loyal fans, as well as a unique way of recruiting first-time viewers to this ground-breaking series,” said A+E Studios’ Barry Jossen. “UnREAL has been an incredible ride filled with awards, critical recognition, committed fans and, best of all, insightful cultural dialogue throughout its run. We expect season four to deliver another great round of cultural influence with its timely themes.”
Season four follows Rachel (Appleby, who directs two episodes including the series finale) and Quinn (Zimmer, who directs one episode) as they return to the set of Everlasting for an “All-Stars”-themed season. New castmembers include Francois Arnaud, Natalie Hall, Meagan Holder and Alejandro Munoz. Shapiro, Noxon and showrunner Stacy Rukeyser are among the exec producers.
Never a ratings breakout but a watercooler hit in its first season, UnREAL earned an early fourth-season renewal last year based on the creative of its third cycle. After wrapping work on season three in May 2017, UnREAL went back into production almost immediately, with filming on season four running from October 2017 to January 2018.
After the show was off the air for more than a year and a half, its season three debuted in February and averaged a mere 270,000 total viewers. (Viewership doubled with seven days of delayed viewing.)
Following its critically praised breakout first season — which earned co-creators Shapiro and Noxon a writing Emmy nomination and prestigious Peabody Award — season two proved more divisive, with Rukeyser being promoted to showrunner for season three. Rukeyser is UnREAL‘s third overall showrunner, following Noxon in season one and Carol Barbee in season two.
Shapiro’s success with UnREAL led to her first-ever overall deal as she signed a multiple-year pact with A+E Studios that included writing and exec producing duties on the show as well as a development component.
The decision to likely end UnREAL comes as Shapiro and Rukeyser told THR ahead of season three that they would like to see the series go beyond four seasons. “We would love to keep doing the show as long as we can,” Rukeyser said after Shapiro stressed her love of Zimmer’s and Appleby’s characters, Quinn and Rachel.
It’s worth noting that though UnREAL‘s season four will have its first window on Hulu, it does not mean that Lifetime is exiting the scripted space. The cable network, a joint effort between Hearst Communications and Disney, still has Greg Berlanti-produced drama You bowing Sept. 9, which will take Lifetime into its holiday-themed programming. Beyond You, Lifetime has Jenji Kohan-produced drama American Princess on tap for 2019. While You is a pricey co-production between A+E and Warner Bros. TV, Netflix boarded the series early on and helped offset those costs by securing SVOD rights to the Penn Badgley and Shay Mitchell series. As for American Princess, the drama is a co-production between A+E Studios and IM Global Television.