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‘unReal': How the Fourth (and Final) Season Ended Up at Hulu

And pretty much on the cheap

Unreal. Lifetime’s “unReal” is no longer Lifetime’s “unReal” — it is now Hulu’s “unReal,” multiple people with knowledge of a new first-run deal between A+E and the subscriber video-on-demand (SVOD) service tell TheWrap.

The scripted look at the behind-the-scenes chaos surrounding the production of a dating competition program has shifted from a cable show with a second-run window on SVOD to just a straight-up SVOD series (yes, with a second run on cable). At least it has done so for Season 4, which two of our sources tell us will be its last.

Here’s how it went down.

Once a buzzy critical darling, “unReal’s” shaky second season and several behind-the-scenes shakeups led to a lengthy hiatus before the premiere of Season 3 earlier this year. But in a big show of confidence about the show’s new creative direction, Lifetime picked up a fourth season of the A+E Studios-produced drama last July.

With the long lead time, the fourth season completed production weeks before the third season even debuted, creating a new problem for Lifetime when Season 3 didn’t exactly light the world on fire in Nielsen’s TV ratings.

The younger-skewing drama, led by Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer, has historically performed better on Hulu — which holds exclusive streaming rights to the show’s first three seasons — than it has with the generally older Lifetime audience. A+E and Lifetime saw an opportunity to generate some additional revenue from the now-ratings-challenged show and approached the streamer to offer first-run rights for Season 4.

Hulu responded with something between a lowball and modest offer for the first-run rights, according to multiple individuals familiar with the deal, ponying up just slightly more than their standing agreement for the second run of “unReal.” A+E accepted without so much as a counter, which is odd, as their previous agreement would have allowed Lifetime to sell ads for Season 4 and then get their usual Hulu money for run No. 2.

The deal is technically not yet done, but the already-aired third season is expected to begin streaming on Hulu this summer, with a fourth season to follow exclusively on the digital platform sometime in the future. At some point after Hulu’s first-run window ends, reruns of Season 4 will air on Lifetime if for nothing else than amortization purposes — keep the accountants happy (and busy), at least.

Lifetime, A+E Studios and Hulu all declined comment on this story when reached by TheWrap.