You’ll be hearing a lot about something called “Battleground” during the next week or two. Don’t dismiss it as the latest big-budget bomb-drop at your local multiplex. Instead, pay close attention to it, because this awesome little production is actually a very solid entertainment property that might occupy a permanent place in media history as the first television series that did not debut on a television network.
Of course, that distinction may depend on your definition of the words “television” and “network,” taken separately or together. From where I sit, the Internet and television as I know it have not yet merged into one, even if media companies are anxious for us to believe otherwise. But the day is coming when we’ll be living with the results of one giant media mash-up, whether we like it or not. At that time, “Battleground” will be just another show in that media mash.
For now, however, it’s something kind of special, because it is the first scripted entertainment series produced by and for Hulu. It will debut Feb., 14 at 3 a.m. ET at hulu.com/battleground, with a new episode posted every Tuesday morning during the following 12 weeks.
“Battleground” certainly isn’t the first ongoing scripted series produced exclusively for an Internet outlet, but I would argue that in many ways it is the most impressive to date. It is so well conceived and constructed that it could readily run on a basic cable network; in fact, at approximately 22 minutes in length, it would fit into a regular half-hour slot with ample room for commercials. If it succeeds, you can expect to see it syndicated here and in international markets at some point.
Notably, “Battleground” is the first ongoing Internet series to have had a formal press conference at one of the twice-yearly Television Critics Association tours. Hulu last month joined the roster of other media platforms (including TiVo and Sony’s Crackle) that have begun to infiltrate what was once an event confined exclusively to television networks. Its presentation was as well-executed and effective as those of the dozens of networks that participated in the two-week tour. In addition to a Q&A with “Battleground” executive producer Marc Webb and writer/director JD Walsh and their talented cast, Hulu also presented sessions for its first series, Morgan Spurlock’s reality effort “A Day in the Life” (which debuted last summer and will begin its second season in March) and its third original program, “Up to Speed,” an observational reality series created by filmmaker Richard Linklater about an eccentric tour guide and historian known as “Speed” Levitch.
Shot in faux-documentary style, “Battleground” looks and plays very much like “Parks and Recreation” and other television series of that sub-genre, though it is more a gentle dramedy than a straight comedy. Set in Wisconsin, it chronicles the efforts of a group of eager young people who toil behind-the-scenes in the state’s political campaigns. In the first season they’re working for a woefully lagging Senatorial candidate. (If “Battleground” returns for future seasons the team will work for different candidates in each of them.) The cast includes several very appealing unknown actors, as might be expected in a low-budget online production, and one person well-known to Generation Digital, former “Attack of the Show” tech-news contributor Alison Haislip.
Internet purists will likely complain that “Battleground” is just another television show. They won’t be completely wrong. It isn’t as inspired as some of the better-known Internet content that has been created completely outside of the traditional structures and restrictions of the Hollywood entertainment community, or the few Web wonders that established Hollywood talent has somehow managed to surprise us with, such as Joss Whedon’s unsurpassed musical masterwork “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog.” But -- and this is important -- while it may seem like it belongs there, the very deserving and distinctive “Battleground” likely would never have found a home on television. It is too intimate and unassuming for that. And even if it had landed on a network, it likely would not have been given a long enough period of time for viewers to find it.
I believe that with time viewers will find “Battleground” on Hulu and share it online with their friends. I also think people who come to it later in its run will enjoy it even more, because “Battleground” feels like one of those shows that grow on you, and what better way to encourage that growth than by watching multiple episodes in one sitting?