There’s nothing like the relief that comes when a low-rated show you love gets renewed. Although outside factors have become increasingly important in renewal decisions, as networks look to monetize where they can and capitalize on whatever buzz their scripted content generates, seeing low numbers on a weekly basis does nothing to soothe the paranoia and crushing pessimism of dedicated TV viewers. Given the lack of transparency in terms of production budget, online viewing, ratings expectations, and network politics, it can be difficult to surmise when low numbers are acceptable and when they’re indicative of a larger problem facing “your” show. But even when a low-rated show manages to snag another season, it can just take one of the external factors that previously worked in their favor to fall apart to turn the high of renewal into cancellation devastation.
VH1 dramedy Hindsight debuted earlier this year to solid reviews and strong word-of-mouth. This was the show that would bring legitimacy to the Viacom network, opening up its gates to a whole new audience that was turned off by ratchet reality and overly produced drama. With more networks getting into scripted content, there’s a pressure on those with certain reputations to diversify and showcase hidden depths to their development and Hindsight was a project that proved VH1 was ready to expand its reach. After a softly-rated first season that found it sharing a night with incompatible Mob Wives, Hindsight did manage to snag a second season renewal, only for that to be rescinded thanks to management changes at VH1. The “unrenewal,” a rarity in the TV world, stung more than any cancellation ever could, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the road for a show about the power of second chances.
Earlier this summer, the entire first season of Hindsight was made available through Hulu, a way to increase sampling and capitalize on the buzz that built throughout the season. Those who wouldn’t have been exposed to the show thanks to its network lineage would have a chance to fall in love without stigma, while the show would have several months in order to turn the online word-of-mouth into necessary viewer increases for a second season. Even though Hindsight might not have the chance to see how many of those who discover it on Hulu would follow it to linear television, the deal to bring it to Hulu could wind up being a blessing for a different reason. Most network transitions fail due to financials and where the show is already part of the Hulu umbrella, it would make the process of putting together what the show would look like as a streaming project much less difficult. Not only has Hindsight had some time to gain new viewers since it was first made available, thereby giving Hulu an idea of whether new episodes could be sustainable, it’s co-produced by Sony, a production house notorious for cost-cutting measures that keep their projects alive. Whether Sony could find a way to make a cable drama work under a streaming budget is yet to be determined, but if any show is in a position to make that transition, it’s Hindsight.
Importantly for Hulu, Hindsight is a show that fits their scripted brand, which would strengthen their position as a Netflix competitor. Though Hulu doesn’t have as many originals as their streaming competition, nor have any of their originals been able to produce the type of buzz that Netflix or Amazon originals have, it’s slowly been cobbling together an identity that differentiates it in a crowded marketplace. By picking up The Mindy Project (created by Office alum Mindy Kaling) after its FOX cancellation and renewing recent debut Difficult People (created by author Julie Klausner), Hulu is championing strong female voices with a distinct point-of-view and a love of pop culture. Both shows are heavy on relationship-based humor and pop culture references and Hindsight is something that would fit right alongside them on Hulu’s scripted slate, thanks to its gloriously ’90s soundtrack and core female friendship. Additionally, picking up Hindsight would give the streaming service a show with a small, loyal audience that could feed into other originals and deepen its bench in a cost effective way. With Netflix airing more than a dozen scripted originals, Hulu needs to find a way to keep pace and while they don’t need to rush half-hearted projects to completion just to have something to air, there’s nothing wrong with picking up a ready-made critical darling that fits the demographic you’re going after.
It’s understandable that any network or streaming service would be apprehensive about picking up a project that was rejected from another venue. You don’t want to be seen as an Island of Misfit Television Shows, especially if you’re putting in the hours to craft an original scripted brand, and too many rescues might make you feel like you’re allowing the competition to get ahead of you. However, Hulu is already ramping up its scripted production, with The Way (starring Aaron Paul, Hugh Dancy, and Michelle Monaghan), Casual (from creator Jason Reitman), and 11/22/63 (starring James Franco and based on the Stephen King novel of the same name) in the pipeline, so they don’t have to worry about feeling overwhelmed by acquired originals. Frankly, picking up Hindsight would provide them with some positive PR that could help their originals this coming fall; it would be a sign to the creative community that they’re serious about becoming a scripted hub and that they’re willing to treat projects with respect, while it would tell television fans and the TV media that Hulu is a place where distinct voices can thrive and creativity can flourish. In order to compete with the Netflixes and Amazons of the world, services like Hulu have to make bigger splashes in the media and generate headlines that can lead to subscription increases. Until the originals that they develop can gain a foothold in the marketplace, why not go with something that has an audience and could generate some online ink on its own?
Hulu not being as fully loaded as Netflix would also work to Hindsight‘s advantage, as the show would be in a more compatible situation with a content provider with the resources and motivation to go the extra mile. It wouldn’t have to fight for space on a more crowded service, nor will it be on an island in a sea of incompatible programming; it would have the chance to fulfill its creative potential on an upstart service, all the while surrounded by programming that complements it rather than clashes with it. The quiet romanticism, quirky soundtrack, and touching introspection of Hindsight might have hindered it at standing out in a crowded scripted landscape, but if given proper support from a service that understands what they have and what it could turn into, it could become one of the most unexpectedly powerful portrayals of female friendship and the regrets of young adulthood on television.
You can check out recaps for the first season of Hindsight here.