Hulu’s trying to do it all. Following years of playing second fiddle to Netflix when it comes to original programming, the opening of Hulu’s upfront presentation in New York Wednesday morning would imply the company is trying to distance itself from that perception. The first announcement? That its long-in-the-works live-TV bundle was launching this very morning, containing the Big Four broadcast networks, sports, and even Scripps channels like HGTV. The package is being offered—along with all of Hulu’s other offerings—for $39.99. CEO Mike Hopkins deemed the company “one brand built to redefine TV.” He promised: “Hulu can now be your primary source for television, live and on demand.”
But don’t worry, Hulu still wants to be a part of Peak TV, too. The Handmaid’s Tale has made the best case for Hulu’s original programming so far: It’s a critical hit, and, apparently, it’s a ratings boon as well, with Hopkins explaining that the first episode was “the biggest premiere in Hulu’s history”—including acquisitions. It only made sense for Hulu to lead its upfront with The Handmaid’s Tale, announcing its renewal and trotting out stars Elisabeth Moss, Samira Wiley, and Alexis Bledel to give an awkwardly cheery pitch. Upfronts are indeed for advertisers, but it was still odd to hear Wiley try to sell the brutal dystopian drama about the subjugation of women on the basis of its love stories.
But it still feels like Hulu has something to prove. Especially when their new series seem to want to ape something that its competitors already have. The biggest announcement was the pick-up of Runaways, the platform’s very own Marvel show set to debut sometime in 2017. For what it’s worth, the trailer that played certainly didn’t look like Netflix’s gritty dramas, infused with the sensibilities of Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, those purveyors of fine teen cheese. Except here, the kids get to curse. “This is some Narnia shit,” one of the superpowered adolescents says as they discover their parents’ nefarious goings-on.
Chief Content Officer Craig Erwich also announced that Hulu was ordering The First, recruiting Beau Willimon, the man who gave Netflix its first big hit with House Of Cards, for a project about “the quest to colonize Mars.” Later, J.J. Abrams came out to sell the audience on the Stephen King mashup Castle Rock, which could turn out to be Hulu’s answer to the King-mimicry in Stranger Things. “Think of it as a Stephen King greatest hits album,” Erwich said. Abrams teased “one of the great first season-enders in memory” and called the premiere “one of the best pilot scripts I’ve ever read.”
Elsewhere, Hulu is going for the serious (with The Looming Tower, based on Lawrence Wright’s book about 9/11), the stoner (with Seth Rogen’s Future Man), and the topical (with Sarah Silverman’s I Love You, America). Silverman closed the show by arguing that “investing in this show is probably a terrible idea. But, you know, fuck it, all your choices are a gamble, right?” The programming looks and sounds promising thanks to the high-profile people shepherding it, but one still gets the sense that Hulu is lagging behind. But, really, what does that matter when it could also fulfill a cord-cutter’s dream?