Stephen King + J.J. Abrams = Hulu’s Big Gamble
Hulu is transforming the Stephen King novel 11/22/63 into an exclusive, nine-episode miniseries… and J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot production company is in charge of making it happen.
First, the positive:
This is Hulu’s most ambitious attempt yet at original programming and hopefully signals that the streaming platform is finally blossoming into a full-fledged, internet-based TV network. I’ve been very vocal about how excited I am to see streaming platforms slowly evolving into de facto a la carte cable networks (Netflix is essentially there, Amazon Prime is getting closer, and HBO Go keeps making noises about following suit.) When it happens, it’ll all but kill our dependence on cable and satellite providers, and it can’t come soon enough.
I love the idea of American production companies finally getting in on the BBC game of turning novels into extended mini-series, or single-season series, or however you want to describe it. Broadcast networks don’t want to do it because they don’t want to start from scratch each season when a long-running show is a much more reliable way to make a buck. Cable networks inevitably turn it into cheaply produced, poorly acted crap (HBO excepted). Now, streaming platforms have a golden opportunity to claim this niche.
Now, the negative:
The J.J. Abrams brand is becoming more and more meaningless as it’s plastered all over TV projects that he likely has minimal involvement in. Believe, Almost Human, Revolution, Alcatraz, Undercovers… is anyone excited to see a new series from the maker of any of those shows? Even his hit shows have a bad reputation for going off the rails… Lost, Alias, Felicity… cementing Abrams’s reputation for jumping ship to new projects rather than seeing anything through (ahem, STAR TREK). Person of Interest is a fig leaf that doesn’t cover all his junk. Who trusts a J.J. Abrams TV show anymore? Just throwing his name out there doesn’t tell me anything.
11/22/63 is about an English teacher who travels back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination. People who have a deep emotional connection to that event have aged out of the demo and are far less likely to be Hulu subscribers. It’s a mismatch that will significantly limit the show’s performance. The people who will be excited about a Stephen King novel being made into a Hulu miniseries are going to want scary, supernatural monsters. This doesn’t mean the show won’t be good or won’t succeed; it’s just that 11/22/63 is going to have some obstacles to overcome.