Online video service Hulu's ambition to become a destination for high-quality, original, scripted shows begins with -- and not on -- a "Battleground."
Hulu executives and show producers on Sunday unveiled Hulu's small programming slate, which consists of three productions, including the politically themed "Battleground," during the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena.
Networks have long used the nearly two-week gathering of journalists to promote their upcoming series. It was Hulu's first appearance at the press tour, and was particularly noteworthy because it marked the first time an online distribution platform participated in the event traditionally reserved for such TV industry heavyweights as ABC, CBS, NBC, HBO, Showtime and Fox.
"We've long asked the question, how come the creativity and vibrancy that exists in the indie film world doesn't exist in TV?" Andy Forssell, Hulu's senior vice president of content, said in an interview. He said Hulu executives concluded that the reason was television's structural barriers, including the mandate that shows immediately produce sizable ratings.
"For us, we don't need a show to take off in the first, second or third episode," Forssell said.
Hulu's first effort in scripted TV programming, "Battleground," debuts Feb. 14. It is directed by actor J.D. Walsh ("Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip") and produced by Hagai Shaham ("The Details") and Marc Webb ("The Amazing Spider-Man" and "(500) Days of Summer").
The 13-episode series is timely, coming in the midst of the Republican primary season. The show, which employs the "faux documentary style" of storytelling, follows a rowdy group of campaign workers who labor to advance the chances of a third-place candidate in the battleground state of Wisconsin.
Fox television originally bought the script but passed on making the show.
"We saw a spark there," Forssell said. "We think the show has the potential to be something that people say: 'This is one of the best things I've seen in the last couple of weeks.' "
Hulu also plans a second season for Morgan Spurlock's "A Day in the Life," a series that debuted last year. In its first season, the show followed such luminaries as music producer and Black Eyed Peas member will.i.am and British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.
In the second season of "A Day in the Life," Spurlock ("Super Size Me" and "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold") and producing partner Jeremy Chilnick plan to capture the daily routines of actor Joel McHale ("Community") and UFC fighter Jason "Mayhem" Miller, among others.
The third original show is "Up to Speed," which comes from filmmaker Richard Linklater ("Dazed and Confused" and "School of Rock.") Linklater has committed to directing six episodes of the show, which Hulu said is designed to discover "historic nooks and crannies of notable destinations."
Although Hulu is developing more original productions, it has no plans to compete with the broadcast networks, Forssell said. (After all, Hulu is owned by broadcast-network owners Walt Disney Co., NBCUniversal and News Corp.).
"The core of the Hulu business is working with the big studios and the big networks and that hasn't changed," Forssell said.
-- Meg James
Photo: Cast of "Battleground," Hulu's first original scripted show. / Credit: Hulu