Hugh Laurie is returning to television this fall in “Chance” — a major pitch by Hulu for equity with Netflix. The series, launching Oct. 18, was announced some months ago, but Laurie — possibly the best actor in the history of television to have never won an Emmy — spoke of it Wednesday at Hulu’s upfront presentation. The fast-growing streaming site also previewed a clip of Ron Howard’s “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week,” which will arrive in theaters and stream on Hulu in the fall.
Of “Chance” — the most recent novel by Kem Nunn, about a San Francisco neuropsychiatrist — Laurie had this to say: “Underneath there’s a story of passion, love, violence, fear joy, and the profound exploration of what it is to be human.” Then he quipped: “That’s in the first 90 seconds.”
The protagonist “could be any one of us, if we were to suffer some perfect storm of loss that can suddenly separate us from identity. This is where Eldon Chance works . . . a man who made one tragic mistake becomes involved in the life of one of his patients, played by the luminous Gretchen Mol.”
There are good reasons to be interested in all of this: Hulu, which will reach 12 million subscriptions by the end of May, wants its own perfect storm of rapid growth fueled by originals, including “The Path” (which just got a second season).
The streaming service Wednesday also confirmed it is jumping on the “skinny bundle” bandwagon, offering broadcast shows in real time (with the exception of CBS, which is not a partner).
But the Beatles — yes, the Beatles — and Laurie are a bigger part of the growth strategy. The clip featured the band playing an early gig at the ABC Cinema in Manchester, on Nov. 20, 1963 — chilling in one sense, because it was two days before John Kennedy’s assassination, but also exhilarating because the picture was crystal-clear. Howard — in a closed circuit address to the crowd along with Sir Paul McCartney — said the film will include never before seen footage.
“Chance” is the real long ball this fall, however. When Laurie left “House” in 2012, he indicated — strongly — that he was done with TV, and done with Hollywood, saying it was too far to travel from his family. He truly seemed resigned — happily — to a future without the golden handcuffs.
Then came “Veep” and “The Night Manager,” which arrived on AMC last week to raves.
As for “Chance,” its author Nunn, who’s also serving as executive producer, is, quite simply, a fascinating figure. He was allied with David Milch on the final season of “Deadwood,” and later went on to co-create “John from Cincinnati,” which remains one of the most perplexing failures in HBO history (but also continues to stream on HBO Go).
Nunn — whom the literary trade press refers to as the master of the “surf noir” genre — was also a co-executive producer-writer on the last couple of seasons of “Sons of Anarchy,” which was one of the most successful series in cable and television history. (So there you have it.)
In an interview with Bookpage a couple of years ago, he said he decided to set “Chance” in San Francisco because it’s a “cool, gray city at the edge of a particularly turbulent sea, with its hills and valleys, its ever-shifting winds and fog — a useful enough metaphor in a story about secrets and hidden agendas.”
Now he’s behind the most important show in Hulu history. A big risk? Sure, but as he told Bookpage: “There’s a saying among surfers — if you never go, you never know. I would say that applies to life in general, and certainly to the making of art, in whatever medium. Fear of failure can be paralyzing. So take the plunge. As William James said, it’s all about faith or fear. Choose faith.”