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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 them 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 longtime 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. The new senior vice president and head of content will direct Hulu’s future original and acquired content endeavor. The network reportedly is looking 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 supernaturalthemed co-production with Lionsgate.

With serial dramas thriving in both the cable space and among its OTT 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 by Amazon prime subscribers from 10 pilot series — 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.

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