In a twist that wouldn’t be out of place on the soapy drama, UnReal—which just three summers ago established itself as Lifetime’s new signature series after a splashy, critically acclaimed debut—is instead going to finish its run on another network.
Hulu announced today that it has picked up the fourth—and what it says will be the final—season of the drama about the production of a Bachelor-esque reality competition series called Everlasting, and will be streaming Season 4 in its entirety beginning today.
It’s a surprising end for a series—developed by co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro while working as a content producer at Wieden + Kennedy in Portland—that in 2015 looked to rebrand Lifetime as a home for provocative, top-shelf scripted series, just as Mr. Robot had done that summer for USA Network. The first season earned a Peabody Award and two Emmy nominations, among many other critical accolades.
But one year later, the show’s divisive Season 2, with polarizing storylines including a Black Lives Matter-inspired police shooting and an assault on lead character Rachel by her drunk ex-boyfriend, caused a backlash from which the show never recovered.
Shapiro and Seasons 3 and 4 showrunner Stacey Rukeyser told Adweek earlier this year that the show had gotten back on track for Season 3, which debuted in February. However, audiences stayed away: UnReal averaged just 270,000 total viewers in live-plus-same-day ratings, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
That led Lifetime and A+E Networks’ in-house production studio, A+E Studios, to approach Hulu, which has exclusive SVOD streaming rights to UnReal, with the new distribution plan for Season 4. In the fourth season, Everlasting producers Rachel (Shiri Appleby) and Quinn (Constance Zimmer) will oversee an “all stars” version of the fictional show.
Hulu said its fans have remained passionate about UnReal: they binge three to four episodes of the season at once, on average, and take only “days” to complete full seasons of the drama.
“UnReal has captivated audiences on Hulu since Season 1, so when this opportunity came to us, we knew we couldn’t miss out,” said Craig Erwich, svp of content, Hulu, in a statement. “This is a unique way to both satisfy fans of the show, while also continuing to introduce it to new audiences.”
Added A+E Studios evp Barry Jossen in a statement, “When the opportunity to partner with Hulu arose, we immediately saw the huge benefit to UnReal’s loyal fans, as well as a unique way of recruiting first-time viewers to this groundbreaking series.”
Despite offloading UnReal to Hulu, Lifetime is not retreating from scripted series like its corporate sibling A&E. Instead, the network has high hopes for You, a new psychological thriller debuting Sept. 9 from executive producers Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble which stars Penn Badgley, Shay Mitchell and John Stamos. It is also in production on American Princess, a Renaissance Fair workplace drama from Orange Is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan and Jamie Denbo.
And as announced at A&E Networks’ upfront in March, Lifetime will challenge Hallmark’s movie dominance during Christmas by premiering 14 original movies during November and December.
Still, this is not the ending for UnReal that Lifetime had envisioned last summer when it ordered a fourth season, more than half a year before Season 3 even debuted. Speaking with Adweek last fall ahead of Season 3, Rob Sharenow, president of programming for A+E Networks, said the company was “incredibly excited about this coming season and the season after,” and that he wasn’t worried about the show’s ability to bounce back from a rocky Season 2.
In 2005, Shapiro fled her job as a field producer on The Bachelor and started working at Wieden + Kennedy as a content producer. With help from Sally DeSipio, then head of entertainment at W+K, the agency later helped Shapiro make the independent short film (and UnReal’s inspiration) Sequin Raze and then turn it into a TV series.
Shapiro told Adweek her advertising background was instrumental in making UnReal: “Succinct storytelling is always useful. Learning how to tell a story in 30 seconds is a very powerful skill to have. Dedication to excellence, no matter what, was also something I took away from Wieden + Kennedy. We always go for the very best, all the time, and that’s what we strive to do at UnReal.”