Getting Original At Digital Upfronts

The digital upfronts take place later this month, but the major over-the-top content distributors are getting out ahead of the digital upfronts with big programming development news.

Netflix recently turned its attention back to drawing top talent to star in its original programming series. The network said it has signed Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin to star in a new comedy series, Grace and Frankie. The veteran actresses will star as long-time rivals brought together by an unusual change in their marital circumstances, network officials said.

The over-the-top service has also signed Brazilian star Wagner Moura to play Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar in its 10-episode series Narcos, which will launch in 2015.

Hulu is betting that former Warner Bros. executive Craig Erwich will take the OTT provider to the promised land of original content. As the new senior vice president, head of content will direct Hulu’s future original and acquired content endeavors as the network reportedly looks to add more original dramas to its lineup of scripted comedies and acquired series and specials, which includes the April 9 debut of Deadbeat, a supernatural-themed coproduction with Lionsgate.

With serial dramas thriving in the cable space as well as at competitors such as Netflix (Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards) and Crackle (Chosen), it makes sense for Hulu to focus on the category. Hulu is also getting into the binge viewing arena through a deal with Comcast to offer prior seasons of NBCUniversal-produced series like The Mindy Project, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Amazon doubled down on its original series fortunes, green-lighting four new scripted shows and two kids-targeted series exclusively for its Amazon Prime subscribers. The new shows — selected from 10 pilot series offered to Amazon Prime subscribers to choose from — join Alpha House, which Amazon renewed for a second season; Silicon Valley-themed series Betas and three kids’ series on its originals slate. After a slow start, Amazon is stepping up on original programming in an effort to keep up with digital competitors. The OTT service today (April 9) announced two more pilots: The Cosmopolitans which follows a group of young American expatriates in Paris who are searching for love and friendship in a foreign city; and Hand of God which centers a powerful, tough judge who finds religion and begins to have visions and hears voices through his ventilator-bound son.

With Yahoo, AOL, Google/YouTube and Microsoft all scheduled to present new content during digital upfronts beginning April 28, there’s no doubt digital services will continue to make a lot of programming noise.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.