In State of the studios† Vanity Fair’s Awards Insider takes a look at the campaigns of some of this Emmy season’s biggest players – from frontrunners to underdogs, on networks and streamers, both well-established and brand new to the game. This first entry focuses on Hulu, armed with an array of strong comedy and limited series contenders, as well as the Disney networks that surround it.
Among drama series, last year’s primetime Emmy Awards were dominated by two shows competing for their fourth season: Netflix’s The crown, who eventually won the top trophy, and Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale the first-ever streaming show to win it in 2017. In an era of rapid turnover, both shows held on to nominations and they did – indeed, better than ever – a real triumph for their respective streamers, an ability to retain some power because it landscape around them has drastically changed day by day.
For Hulu, at least a year later, the contrast is striking. Not only does the Disney-controlled network not have: maidservant into the fray, but until a bizarre recent brand shift for his 2021 thriller Nine Perfect Strangers— a long chance for recognition of awards, kindly — there was no drama series worth mentioning eligible compete. The streamer, whose success was pretty much defined by one of the biggest dramas of the decade, has quietly changed his strategy. But while it may be absent from the category where it once had great success, the New Hulu is really showing its best side this cycle.
Let’s start in comedy, where Hulu has carved out a niche for witty, highbrow programming. Last year, freshman The big seemed on the brink of a full-blown breakthrough, scoring nods for writing and directing; this year it would be even closer, with stars Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult now SAG-nominated, were it not for the fact that they face stronger intra-competition. there is Reservation Dogs, grabbing the adored underdog bill of past carriers like PEN15 (a 2021 comedy series nominee) and Frame. And Hulu is about to make its strongest statement yet in the comedy series Race With Only murders in the building, after the mystery sitcom’s blockbuster debut last August.
Just the star power –Steve Martin and Martin Kort seem likely to occupy a third of the field of protagonists, while Selena Gomez and Amy Ryan are competing in lead and supporting actress respectively, putting it in line for major nominations. But Hulu’s strategy this spring was incredibly smart. Combining season two’s press — the show returned this week — with campaigns for awards, the show’s three A-list faces are everywhere. There was the glitzy season two premiere event in Hollywood; a curated lunch at the London Hotel, where the stars mingled with the voters; and a formal FYC panel as part of Disney’s FYC Fest. It’s the kind of consistent, flavorful, upbeat approach typically reserved for smashing Oscar pushes. I suspect the full press, coupled with the show’s dignity, will result in an impressive run of noms — and a chance at comedy series.
Hulu has become so deeply identified with another subgenre that it has become a morbid species from meme: Thoughtful dramatizations of sensational real life events, packaged like limited star series. This Emmy Season, the Network Fields Dopesick, The Dropout, Pam & Tommy, Candy, The Girl From Plainville, and more. That the first two are expected to bring in the nominations for the best limited series – that would be 40% of the category – is in itself a huge achievement, regardless of how the others do. (The rest is mostly acting at the moment, due to mixed reviews or faded buzz.) You could go further and say that dopessick‘s Michael Keaton and the outage‘s Amanda Seyfried are positioned to sweep the main acting categories now. For a field that dominates HBO/HBO Max year after year, that’s quite a seismic opportunity.
What is a Hulu show to the average viewer? The service introduces so much new programming — programming that isn’t technically theirs — that you’d be forgiven for having no idea what actually qualifies. Damn, it’s hard for me to keep up. Audience could not watch Under the banner of heaven, FX’s big contender starring Andrew garfield, everywhere but Hulu, while FX’s big fall premiere, Accusation: American Crime Story, suffered greatly from an outdated streaming deal that prevented it from reaching Hulu. And while Abbott Elementary Drawn in solid numbers on linear ABC, there’s a huge contingent — myself, transparent, among them — streaming the breakout freshman sitcom weekly, the day after its broadcast debut.
These are all shows that fall under the Disney umbrella, of course, and these additions to Hulu programming will only get closer to the family over the years, and rival networks that once relied on Hulu are moving their content to their own. streamers. (As New York‘s Josef Adalian recently posted, NBC and Peacock are about to face a big test on this matter.) But as audiences increasingly migrate to streaming, the definition, exactly, of what Hulu is– especially in the context of price campaigns – is an urgent one.