Online TV is stretching beyond funny videos and low-rent series -- especially among such big streaming video promoters as Netflix and Hulu.
They're starting to commission the kind of ambitious dramas and comedies seen on network and cable. They're also acquiring existing series, some from other countries, to broaden American viewing choices.
NETFLIX (netflix.com; subscription service). Kevin Spacey and director David Fincher ("The Social Network") are shooting the political thriller "House of Cards" for 2013, and onetime Fox cult fave "Arrested Development" is back in production, too. Other big Netflix orders include the women's prison comedy "Orange Is the New Black" from Jenji Kohan ("Weeds") and the monsters-and-murder mayhem of "Hemlock Grove" with Famke Janssen from director Eli Roth.
Earlier this year, Steven Van Zandt of "The Sopranos" made Netflix's first big splash, starring in eight episodes of Norway-made "Lilyhammer" as an American mobster in witness protection there. Still streaming, it's been renewed for season 2.
HULU (hulu.com, some shows free on computers; huluplus.com, subscription for original series and TV viewing). The original political mockumentary "Battleground" was touted here earlier this year, along with schoolground warfare lampoon "The Yard."
But Hulu's real treats have been its imported series -- just-launched British police thriller "Line of Duty" with Lennie James ("Jericho"), long-running Canadian comedy "Little Mosque on the Prairie," and subtitled Israeli series "Prisoners of War," which inspired Showtime's hot "Homeland."
LINK TV (linktv.org). The big lure on this world-cultures channel is "Borgen," a stylish Danish drama of sordid political intrigue that's become a global hit, just like Denmark's original version of "The Killing." After Newsweek's recent "Borgen" rave, Link TV bumps up the buzz by restreaming all 20 episodes (at inktv.org/borgen; initial hours up through Sunday, concluding hours through Sept. 14).
Other series at Link TV -- the Kenyan drama "The Team," where diverse soccer players work past their tribal and social differences, and the acclaimed comedy "Arab Labor," an Israeli-born Palestinian journalist's quest for identity.
Link TV is also available as a linear TV channel on satellite (DirecTV Ch. 375, DISH Ch. 9410) and scattered cable systems (none locally).