In the 15 years since Hulu’s launch, the streaming service has gone through many iterations. What started as a joint media venture that popularized the term “next-day streaming” has transformed into a hub for award-winning original content, and, more recently, an extension of the Disney brand. While Hulu’s first 15 years are marked by major successes — including acquiring The Mindy Project from Fox and becoming the first streamer to win the Outstanding Drama Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale — the service has also experienced its fair share of failures, like the launch of the confusingly-titled “FX on Hulu” module or the departure of popular NBC shows.
Still, these moments, good and bad, celebratory and embarrassing, have made Hulu what it is today: a platform that prioritizes quality over quantity, with a commitment to telling distinctive, personal stories. From its first foray into original content to the end of long-standing partnerships with other networks, these are the 15 milestone moments from Hulu’s 15-year history.
September 29, 2011
Netflix is often credited with kickstarting the boom in original content, but it was actually Hulu that broke that particular glass ceiling. For its first three years, Hulu primarily streamed episodes of ongoing ABC, Fox, and NBC shows, but in September 2011 (six months before Lilyhammer debuted on Netflix), the service premiered A Day in the Life, a docuseries from Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me). Each episode centered on a different pop culture or political figure, from Richard Branson to Questlove, and chronicled a typical day in their extraordinary lives, with the ultimate goal of offering “a fly on the wall” experience for curious subscribers. For fans of YouTube vlogs, A Day in the Life’s handheld camerawork and lo-fi production likely felt familiar, though the people profiled across its two seasons — like John Fetterman, then dubbed “America’s Coolest Mayor,” and will.i.am. — made for a bit more on-screen diversity than was common at the time.
May 15, 2015
One week after Fox dropped the ax on Mindy Kaling's sitcom after three seasons, Hulu stepped in and picked up the series for a whopping 26-episode fourth season. The decision made good business sense at the time. While Mindy put up disappointing numbers for a network series, the show was a strong performer as a library title on Hulu. After being a bubble show for most of its time on Fox, Mindy thrived on Hulu, becoming one of its centerpiece comedies and establishing the streamer as a legitimate destination for good shows that struggled with network TV's audience demands.
August 5, 2015; October 5, 2015
The Mindy Project acquisition was a big step forward for Hulu's comedy division, one that was augmented later that year by the premieres of Difficult People in August of 2015 and Casual in October. In both cases, big-name producers attached themselves to burgeoning comedic talent, yielding a pair of shows that helped Hulu establish their comedic identity. Casual starred Michaela Watkins and Tommy Dewey as adult siblings trying to figure out their lives, with producer Jason Reitman providing the industry muscle. Difficult People, produced by Amy Poehler, was the brainchild of Julie Klausner, who followed the very '90s path of a comedian writing and starring in a sitcom with numerous similarities to her own life (character named Julie, aspiring comedian, recapped TV to pay the bills). The series also featured Billy Eichner in a co-lead role, which helped build the bridge between Billy on the Street viral fame and eventual Bros auteurship.
Both comedies were hits with critics, showing up on year-end Best Of lists at Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Thrillist, and they paved the way for character-driven comedies like Shrill, Ramy, and PEN15.
February 15, 2016; July 25, 2018
Adaptations of Stephen King's books have never really gone away, but the 2010s saw a definite uptick in A-list undertakings of the horror master's works. After the CBS adaptation of Under the Dome earned mostly jeers, Hulu partnered with J.J. Abrams on an adaptation of King’s Kennedy assassination historical fiction 11.22.63, starring James Franco and Chris Cooper. This was one year before Mike Flanagan and Andy Muschetti put their stamps on the King universe with film adaptations of Gerald's Game and It, respectively. Hulu was back in 2018, premiering the innovative Castle Rock, a series which remixed and reimagined various King locales and characters into a pair of brand new stories. With both these shows, Hulu made itself an essential part of a cultural phenomenon.
September 17, 2017
The 2017 Primetime Emmys were a pivotal moment for Hulu, as you'll see below. But while receiving one of the night's earliest awards, The Handmaid's Tale star Ann Dowd gave Hulu the best gift she could have given the streamer. When Dowd won the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama award for her performance as Aunt Lydia, she thanked Hulu for their support and put a little extra lilt into her voice when thanking "Hulu… they're very lovely, Hulu." The internet, as it is wont to do, capitalized on that small moment and turned Dowd's "Hooloo" pronunciation into a meme, doing more for that platform's brand awareness than almost anything else that happened that night. Almost…
September 17, 2017
Proximity to Donald Trump’s election and the #MeToo movement certainly bolstered The Handmaid's Tale's bid for "zeitgeist TV series of 2017." At the Emmys, the show won 5 major awards, including Lead Actress in a Drama for Elisabeth Moss and the big one, Outstanding Drama Series. This was not only a first for Hulu but a first for any streaming platform. That Hulu beat out Netflix, which had been gunning hard for that Emmy ever since House of Cards premiered four years earlier, had to have been hugely satisfying, in addition to being a landmark victory.
March 20, 2019
In recent years, Hulu has become synonymous with docudramas, particularly of the true-crime variety: A six-week span in Spring 2022 saw the release of The Girl From Plainville, FX on Hulu’s Under the Banner of Heaven, and Jessica Biel’s Candy. While these shows reflect the public’s continued interest in salacious stories, Hulu’s investment in the genre goes back to 2017, when it acquired the rights to Michelle Dean’s 2016 BuzzFeed article about Dee Dee Blanchard, a mother who was accused of abusing her daughter, Gypsy Rose, by fabricating illnesses and disabilities. (Documentarian Erin Lee Carr also explored the Blanchards’ case in 2017 documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest.)
Two years later, Gypsy’s experience and Dee Dee’s eventual murder were dramatized in The Act, which became an overnight sensation when it premiered in March 2019. Patricia Arquette won a well-deserved Emmy for her disturbing performance as a woman suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, while Joey King earned widespread acclaim for her work as Gypsy Rose. The Act’s formula of recruiting a celebrated TV performer to dramatize a headline-making crime also proved to be a winner, and Hulu responded accordingly, leading to 2022’s triple threat of true-crime limited series — not to mention upcoming projects like Riley Keough’s Under the Bridge and the recently announced Murdaugh Murders series.
April 9, 2019; February 24, 2020
It’s impossible to talk about Hulu’s first 15 years (and its next 15) without discussing the fallout from the Disney-21st Century Fox merger, which closed in March 2019. The merger left Disney with majority control of Hulu, and, seeing the writing on the wall, Comcast relinquished its 33% stake in May of that year, becoming a silent partner in the service it helped launch a decade prior.
Thus began Hulu’s transformation into an arm of Disney, one that would soon ensnare two of the company’s high-profile reboots. In 2018, Disney ordered a series adaptation of High Fidelity with the intention of premiering it on their new streaming service, Disney+, but that changed in the immediate aftermath of the merger, when the Mouse House announced the Zoë Kravitz-led reboot would now premiere on Hulu. A few months later, in February 2020, Love, Simon continuation series Love, Victor made a similar jump. In both cases, the shows’ adult-oriented themes — including Love, Victor’s “alcohol use, parents’ marital issues, and sexual exploration” — were cited as justification for the move from Disney+ to Hulu. Whether Love, Victor’s themes are really too “mature” for young viewers is up for debate (notably, Season 3 streamed concurrently on Hulu and Disney+), but there’s no denying that this repositioning of assets went a long way towards establishing Hulu as the adult-oriented service in Disney’s streaming portfolio, a sentiment that only strengthened with the launch of the FX content hub.
April 19, 2019
When Hulu announced A Day in the Life back in 2011, it touted the original as the first series in a new initiative to “support creatively and financially the work of independent storytellers.” That certainly proved to be the case eight years later with the release of Ramy, Ramy Youssef’s semi-autobiographical dramedy about a millennial American Muslim navigating love and faith in New Jersey. Ramy’s first season marked a milestone for on-screen representation: It deftly challenged stereotypical depictions of Muslims, while also examining the specific ways in which Ramy’s faith and his identity intertwined. (Not to mention, it’s funny as hell.) The show went on to earn its co-creator and star a Golden Globe Award, and in 2020, it made history as the first Muslim-American comedy nominated for an Emmy, with Youssef scoring nods for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy and Outstanding Directing.
May 30, 2019
Hulu’s partnership with international networks like the BBC and ITV goes back to 2013 with the release of James Corden’s The Wrong Mans, but it wasn’t until 2019 that its co-production slate really began to heat up. That year, the streamer debuted Catch-22, an adaptation of Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel starring George Clooney and Kyle Chandler, and landed the rights to Normal People, Sally Rooney’s award-winning novel. While the former boasted serious star power, it was the latter that caught fire when it premiered in April 2020. Viewers stuck at home in the early days of the pandemic were enraptured by the story of Irish young adults Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal), their passionate romance illustrated with the utmost care by directors Lenny Abrahamson (Room) and Hettie Macdonald (Doctor Who). While follow-up Conversations With Friends failed to recapture this magic, the success of Normal People marked a major win for Hulu’s co-productions team. That Edgar-Jones and Mescal are now two of the hottest actors in Hollywood is just a bonus.
March 5, 2020; April 15, 2020
The Walt Disney Company's purchase of 20th Century Fox was finalized in March of 2019, followed only a couple months later by Disney acquiring Hulu from Comcast. By the end of that year, Disney had announced plans to converge both its Hulu and FX brands by designating certain original FX content as "FX on Hulu," which would premiere exclusively on the streamer. This began in earnest in March of 2020 with the sci-fi limited series Devs from acclaimed creator Alex Garland. That show never quite caught on, but the second FX on Hulu series did, the biographical limited series Mrs. America, which featured Cate Blanchett as American anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly, alongside an all-star cast that included Rose Byrne, Sarah Paulson, Margo Martindale, and Uzo Aduba. Ten Emmy nominations later, Mrs. America was a definite success for FX on Hulu, even as the branding was confusing for many, leading to the joint venture being scrapped by the end of 2021.
March 18, 2020; April 15, 2020
FX on Hulu's brand meddling notwithstanding, Mrs. America was still a landmark achievement for scoring A-list talent. The lines between movie stardom and TV stardom have been blurring for years, but top-tier performers still end prestige to small-screen productions. Big Little Lies was a reminder that HBO can still set the industry standard for star power, with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and ultimately Meryl Streep bringing their considerable name value and screen presence to TV. The spring of 2020 saw Hulu getting in on that game in a major way. Little Fires Everywhere centered Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington as both stars and producers. Mrs. America starred two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett. A year later, Nine Perfect Strangers, featuring Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy, invited Big Little Lies comparisons as an adaptation of another Liane Moriarty work. The overall increase of star power on Hulu has been significant. Over the last few years, Hulu has platformed top-tier names like Andrew Garfield, Amanda Seyfried, and Lily James, all of whom helped lead Hulu to their big Emmys year in 2022.
February 19, 2021
The pandemic-year Oscars in 2021 were full of asterisks and you-had-to-be-there vibes. The ceremony took place in a train station, Glenn Close danced to "Da Butt," and because movie theaters were closed for most of the year, streaming platforms were overrepresented in the nominations. Netflix, as thirsty as ever for its first Best Picture win, came armed with films from David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin. But it was Chloé Zhao's Nomadland that proved to be the unlikely frontrunner. The film was distributed by Disney-owned Searchlight Pictures and didn't officially premiere until February 2021. Audiences were definitely still reticent to hit theaters, so a day-and-date strategy meant that Nomadland premiered in limited release and on Hulu on the same day. Just as it had at the Emmys in 2017, Hulu beat Netflix to the podium at the Oscars, when Nomadland was named Best Picture. Afterwards, producer Dan Janvey attributed part of the film's Oscar success to its ability to connect with audiences at home. "This was one that you didn’t have to wait until it came to your town to see it," Janvey said. "It was nice for people to have that option."
August 9, 2021
Though it’s technically an FX original, Reservation Dogs has proven to be an important milestone for Indigenous storytelling on Hulu. Created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi and produced by a team of Indigenous writers and directors, Reservation Dogs follows a core group of teens (Devery Jacobs, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Lane Factor, and Paulina Alexis) as they wrestle with their grief over the death of their friend and their desire to leave their reservation community in Oklahoma. In Season 2, the teens begin to question this longing for bigger and “better” things, but even as their coming-of-age progresses, Reservation Dogs never loses sight of the individuality of their journey, rendering it one of the most intimate comedies of the decade. There’s a reason the show came in at #1 on our Best TV Shows of 2022 list, with Primetimer editor-in-chief Danette Chavez praising “the strength of its cast and its deeply humane storytelling.”
September 19, 2022
Even as Hulu has expanded its original library to include Emmy-winning dramas, acclaimed comedies, and indie films, the promise of next-day streaming remains a major draw for subscribers. This is what Hulu was founded on, and it’s what differentiated it from its original competitors, Netflix and Prime Video, before newer services like Paramount+ and Peacock entered the space. But Hulu’s next-day streaming was dealt a huge blow in September 2022, when the Comcast-backed NBCUniversal terminated its deal, ending a 15-year streaming partnership. Beginning with the 2022-2023 broadcast season, new episodes of NBC shows including Saturday Night Live, Law & Order, and the One Chicago franchise are no longer available to stream on Hulu; instead, they can be found on Peacock, in both ad-free and ad-supported versions.
For a service that made a name for itself via next-day streaming, the loss of NBC titles is a sign of the changing times. Yes, Hulu is still backed by the biggest, most powerful media company in the world — and for next-day viewers, ABC and Fox shows remain on the service — but its future has never been more in doubt: Disney CEO Bob Iger recently said that “everything is on the table” to keep Disney afloat, even selling Hulu. Who knows what the next 15 years hold for Hulu, but we can only hope the powers that be recognize just how far the platform has come since its days as a rerun service.
TOPICS: Hulu, FX on Hulu, A Day in the Life, The Handmaid's Tale, The Mindy Project, Mrs. America, Ramy, Disney