Hulu is Online -- Is The WB Next?

By Jack Myers TomorrowToday Archives

Hulu is now open to the public, and if the average television viewer is even half as impressed as I am, it is going to be huge.

It occurred to me as I wrote that sentence that once upon a time I might have followed it with the line, “If Hulu catches on, and there is no reason to think it won't, co-founders NBC Universal and News Corp. should give serious thought to launching a cable television network of the same name.”

But in our runaway digital universe, what would be the point? There are on Hulu hundreds of video offerings, from full episodes of current and classic television series to a broad assortment of feature films (Ice Age! The Usual Suspects! Mulholland Drive!), not to mention a riot of classic and soon to be classic clips from Saturday Night Live and Mad TV. It may be true that over time most of them will likely be viewed by more people online than would ever watch them on a cable network. So why confine them to television? (I might ask the same question of Al Gore about his digital network Current. I have never understood why the huge online community that fills Current.com with user-generated videos and communicates about them would have any interest in sitting and staring at the same stuff on television. That is so not current. But Gore has an Emmy for his effort, so what do I know?)

Even though Hulu is looked upon by many as representative of television's future, I have to say the best thing about it at this early date is its rich library of episodes from television's past. I really wasn't prepared for so large and tantalizing a selection of favorites from my childhood and teen years. The Dick Van Dyke Show! The Addams Family! Ironside! Welcome Back Kotter! Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea! The Bob Newhart Show! And my second favorite series of all time, The Mary Tyler Moore Show! (Want to know my No. 1 favorite? You tell me your's and I'll tell you mine!) Just the inclusion of MTM makes me a Hulu insta-fan.

I hope the millions of kids and teens who actually prefer to watch visual entertainment on computer screens rather than television monitors will acquaint themselves with the dozens of classic shows on Hulu, just as I hope Hulu will continue to beef up its library of vintage programming. (It has only been “open” for two days, and Hulu is already on its way to becoming the new TV Land!) Even if the young ones don't go retro, there are plenty of current television properties from NBC, Bravo, Sci Fi Channel, Oxygen, Fox, FX and elsewhere in the Hulu mix.

Also located in the pages of Hulu are a number of shows with which I am not familiar. What the heck is Three Sheets? (Actually, it's a reality show about a guy who drinks his way around the world.) Who is Dr. Danger? Where did The Academy come from? (Fear not: Hulu offers the answers in nifty pop-up boxes.) I need more television, online or otherwise, like I need gangrene, but I have the feeling I'll be spending a lot of time here. Our TV Maven was right on when she gave this site an early rave during its prolonged beta test.

More pluses: There are plenty of commercials located throughout everything on Hulu, but they aren't overwhelming or off-putting. Also, the site design is so elegant and easy to navigate and so welcoming that it puts most network sites to shame.

One minus: As is always the case with online video watching, you need to watch Hulu's shows in a small box on your screen if you want them to look good. The bigger the box the blurrier the image. But if you are part of the growing community of people who like their TV teeny tiny, you'll be as happy as a clam.

Technically, every piece of content on Hulu is a rerun. But who cares? Every TV show on DVD, every video on iTunes and every television series episode on network Web sites is a rerun, unless it's a special preview. And as one of the two television networks from which Hulu draws most of its current content is fond of saying, “If you haven't seen it, it's new to you!” And even if it isn't new to you, there are a lot of shows here you might want to watch again (like Murder One and St. Elsewhere).

If Hulu catches on with viewers and advertisers alike, one must assume that other networks and makers of series entertainment product will either initiate efforts to include their property on it (Comcast networks E! and G4 are already represented, if only by clips from their shows) or attempt to create Hulu-like platforms of their own. There have been reports this week that Warner Bros. is giving serious thought to reviving the much missed The WB, a television network that was also much-loved as a brand by young demographic groups and the advertisers who crave them. If the company relaunches The WB as an online destination (with the wrongfully terminated Michigan J.Frog back as host) it would make a fine home for reruns of the teen dramas that gave the network its mid-life heat. Certainly, there is a new generation of DVD-averse digitally dominated teenagers ready to relive the WB magic. (Warner Bros. had better hurry. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is already on Hulu.)

What's next in the halo of Hulu? How about original series product? Not videos intended to go viral but actual original television-style series, offered to people willing to pay a special membership fee that allows access to brand-new content. People cheerfully pay to download episodes of TV shows they can otherwise watch for free, so why wouldn't such a membership fee work? Throw in some advertising revenue and you're good to go.


Tomorrow: The Shelly Palmer Report

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