Andy Forssell on Hulu’s Original Programming

Hulu’s Vice President of Content talks about “Battleground,” “A Day in the Life” and “Up to Speed.”

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Hulu made a presentation to the Television Critics Association earlier this year about its slate of original programming. Hulu's reality series “A Day in the Life” recently returned for a new season with celebrities like Marc Maron and Joel McHale, but Hulu's original lineup also includes the scripted series “Battleground” about a local election campaign office and a new travel show coming this summer called “Up to Speed” featuring tour guide Timothy “Speed” Levitch.

Vice President of Content for Hulu, Andy Forssell stuck around after the panel to answer some questions and I asked about the new endeavors for Hulu.


CraveOnline: Were originals always part of the plan for Hulu?

Andy Forssell: No, I don't think they were. It’s sort of an obvious thing to consider, but look, the core of our business has been and will continue to be working with big network partners and big studio partners and giving them a great option for last night’s TV and last year’s TV. We’ll continue to build that business. So that was the original vision. Do advertising better. Do the online user experience better.

That will continue as the core of this business but as we’ve started to license shows like “Misfits” and really try and make matches to audience, we meet people like Morgan [Spurlock] and like J.D. [Walsh]. J.D.’s story is interesting. It’s not that Fox is making bad decisions. They have a model that’s great. They’re very good at what they do but his show falls through the cracks of that model.

Rick Linklater didn’t have somewhere to take a show with Speed Levitch. I think originals came up much later and not at the outset, but they came as we realized we could make a difference and get things made that were really good and would connect with users but just weren’t going to get made otherwise.

CraveOnline: Do you see “Speed” as more of a niche show than “Battleground”?

Andy Forssell: The logical sane answer to that question is yes, just looking at the type of show it is. I’ll tell you my honest answer is I don’t know because I think “Battleground” probably has broader appeal, but you would not believe the number of people that have heard we’re doing something with Speed, whether someone’s spouse or one of the security guards at the office that knows Speed, says, “I hear you’re doing a show with Speed.” So I think the answer is probably yes, it’s a broader show but you would be shocked at online how a show with the passion and heart of the kind of show Rick is making with Speed will allow it to propagate.

CraveOnline: Would you have done “Battleground” in a non election year?

Andy Forssell: I think it’s such a good set of scripts and such a good story, I think we absolutely would have. But as J.D. said, late last year as we got serious about it, we said it just makes sense to move quickly and do this because I think it really resonates and shows an interesting take on elections that, as J.D. said, are not really about the politics. Yeah, we would have done it but it’s much better to do it with all this action going on.

CraveOnline: With “A Day in the Life” do you find that some viewers only watch the one Day of the celebrity they’re interested in?

Andy Forssell: Yeah, it’s interesting. You find people that get hooked on the series and love Morgan and Jeremy’s take and their voice, but a lot more common is, like the Girl Talk episode that was on Pitchfork. It will get featured somewhere and the fans of that person will climb on and go, “This is Girl Talk. I totally want to learn more about this.”

They tell two friend and then they tell two friends. So I think that audience is probably roughly half people that love the series and half people that cherry pick an episode because it spoke to them. That’s the beautiful thing about the format. We’re fine either way.

CraveOnline: Does Joel McHale’s episode follow a day when he’s doing both “The Soup” and “Community”?

Andy Forssell: I think they just filmed that. [episode] I don’t know but I think the answer is yes because when they talked about concepts, they wanted to capture both of that but I don’t know. You’d have to follow up with Jeremy.

CraveOnline: There are a lot of Hollywood people making shows for you. Is there a way for more homegrown talent to reach out to you, maybe more easily than the Hollywood channels?

Andy Forssell: Yeah, there are. We’ve reached out to a few people that we saw do really interesting things online. One thing we have, we have a huge respect for how hard it is to make great shows. It is hard. For a long time we resisted, because as a company you can only do so many things really well.

If that list ends up being seven things, you’re probably not going to be very good at any of them. Making great shows, other people have to do that. That comes back to is there room for really young fresh talent? Yes, but they need some infrastructure around them for people that just know how this works and can short circuit what it takes to do things well.

So I think it’s more likely if we met someone who was really the green end of the spectrum but someone we really felt was incredibly talented, we’re more likely to hook them up with some of the producers that were here in the room today, let them go off and help incubate that, and then in the end, we can help figure out is that the right show for us and should we distribute it?

CraveOnline: Science fiction has a hard time on network. Do you have any more plans for a genre show?

Andy Forssell: Well, that plays to our audience. Misfits has done well. A lot of sci-fi if done well can be higher budget just because you get into effects and things. But the fit with the online audience and the fit with that sort of passion is so good, I’m sure we’ll do something in the next couple of years. There’s one thing in the pipeline now, I can’t talk about the specifics, that’s hardcore sci-fi. We think we can do it and make it great but we’re still in the early stages.