When Margaret Atwood wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale” as a bleak novel of a world gone wrong back in 1985, she probably never could have anticipated the chord it would strike with an audience three decades later. But Hulu, which picked up Bruce Miller’s adaptation of the tale, immediately saw the “grounded, world-building” story as one that would be relevant for the television landscape — and its own original programming slate — for years to come. The Academy validated Hulu’s belief by crowning the series with 13 Emmy nods.
“We anticipated this, not the Emmy nominations, but the type of show that ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ would be for Hulu a year ago,” says Craig Erwich, head of content at Hulu. “It’s an incredible book that lends itself to a television series [with] the villains, the heroes and this incredible world.”
“Handmaid’s Tale” is not the streaming service’s first foray into high-concept scripted series: Last year saw J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, “11/22/63,” starring James Franco, garnering Hulu a nom for visual effects. Erwich was looking for another package like that event series to be the next piece in a long-term development strategy.
“We wouldn’t have ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ without some of our other shows. Elisabeth Moss and Margaret Atwood aren’t going to bring their work to Hulu unless they’ve seen ‘The Path,’ and they’ve seen the Golden Globe nomination for ‘Casual,’ and they see that J.J. Abrams and Aaron Paul say good things about us and continue to work here,” says Erwich. “It’s an evolution.”
While it still has a long way to go to topple rival Netflix, which this year scored 91 nods, “Handmaid’s Tale” has truly put Hulu on the Emmy map with recognition in key categories including drama series, lead actress, writing and directing. Prior to this year, Hulu had only received below-the-line Emmy noms (last year’s aforementioned nod for “11/22/63” and variety writing nom for “Triumph’s Election Special 2016”).
“This get us in the conversation in a bigger way, and that enhances the value of our brand,” Erwich says.
The success of “Handmaid’s Tale” is confirmation for Erwich that the strategy they have put in place is the right one. “We were keenly on the lookout for [shows] that have a big world, feel relevant and feel like television events. And they’re hard to find,” he says. “‘And you’ll see that the next one up — ‘The Looming Tower,’ based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the war on terror, starring Jeff Daniels, Peter Sarsgaard and Alec Baldwin — will be of that ilk, as well.”