New York Within just over a week, Netflix and Hulu are both debuting their first stabs at original scripted programming.
The shows amount to a milestone in Internet television, an early sign of the leveling between broadcasting and streaming. Programming options between TV and the Web are increasingly separated by little more than the “video source” button on your remote.
But the most salient thing about the new offerings from Netflix and Hulu are just how “TV” they are.
Earlier this week, Netflix released all eight episodes of “Lilyhammer,” a fish-out-of-water drama starring Steve Van Zandt (“The Sopranos”) as a New York mobster relocated to Norway. On Tuesday, Hulu will premiere “Battleground,” a faux-documentary sitcom about the young operatives of a middling political campaign in Wisconsin.
Each has a broadcast pedigree. “Lilyhammer” was produced for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (a lesser known NBC) and began airing there in January. As a script, “Battleground” was initially purchased by Fox (whose corporate parent, News Corp., is a co-owner of Hulu, along with Walt Disney Co. and NBCUniversal).
That both “Battleground” and “Lilyhammer” look and feel so much like broadcast shows is a signal of their high-quality (though “Lilyhammer” is notably better made) and their lack of innovation. These are ultimately just a couple of new shows among hundreds, only ones consumable through a new distribution method.
The 50-minute “Lilyhammer,” for which Van Sandt is also a producer and writer, is the more intriguing of the two. It often feels almost like a parody of a “Sopranos” spinoff: If we’re going to have Silvio in Scandinavia, then how about Paulie Walnuts in Walla Walla? Or Uncle Junior in Jakarta?
“Battleground,” judging by its first two episodes, is a light, watered-down knockoff of “The Office,” moved a little farther west and focusing on a slightly younger demographic. Its 13 episodes will debut every Tuesday.
For Hulu and Netflix, the shows don’t need to be masterpieces, just conversation-starters — drops of newness to freshen up their extensive libraries and garner media coverage in articles like this one.