Sebastian Stan and Lily James in Pam & Tommy
Kumail Nanjiani in Welcome to Chippendales
Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout.
Start spreading the news. Welcome to Chippendales is the latest buzzy Hulu limited series based on a provocative real-life headline. "I would be reluctant to not admit that these series have emerged as a significant part of our brand," says Jordan Helman, Hulu's head of scripted content. Engrossing sagas inspired by true events are just one piece of the Hulu puzzle, but the streaming network has struck creative and Emmy gold in the past year by delving into the worlds of sex, drugs and heavy metal.
Helman adds that the trend started in 2019 with the success of The Act, a chilling true story about a toxic mother-daughter relationship — portrayed by Patricia Arquette (in an Emmy-winning performance) and Joey King, respectively. "It launched us into the world of finding artful ripped-from-the-headlines stories that would serve as catnip for talent in front of and behind the camera," he says. He breaks down Hulu's biggest hits.
When writer-director Danny Strong approached executives about developing a series that explored America's struggle with opioid addiction, "We thought it would be incredible on an entertainment level because it was a rip-roaring thriller," he says. It ended up "having a tremendous amount of political and cultural impact." Michael Keaton won an Emmy for his portrayal of a dedicated Virginia doctor.
Pam & Tommy (2022)
The sordid story of Pamela Anderson (Lily James) and Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) and their infamous stolen sex tape was approached not as a whodunit, but a whydunit. "It had something to say about celebrity culture over the past 25 years and how the internet has torn down the walls of privacy," he says. The saga was also "just a good time with pure marketability."
The Dropout (2022)
"This was a perfect Hulu show," Helman says of the series that chronicled the ups and downfalls of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. "It's an incredible psychological examination that felt prescient and contemporary." And though Amanda Seyfried was a last-minute replacement to play the duplicitous turtleneck-wearing CEO of a blood-testing company, she was bloody perfect in the Emmy-worthy role.
The Girl from Plainville (2022)
Was teen Michelle Carter (Elle Fanning) really responsible for the "texting suicide" of her friend, Conrad Roy (Colton Ryan)? Helman says executives jumped at depicting the controversial case because of the behind-the scenes-talent. "The sensitivity with which [creators] Liz [Hannah] and Patrick [Macmanus] wanted to approach the material was clear from day one."
Hulu was working on a project about the well-to-do Texas housewife (Jessica Biel) who butchered her good friend (Melanie Lynskey) in 1980, "long before" HBO Max developed its own version, Helman says. And by premiering one new episode per night over the course of a week, "we saw massive social media engagement."
Read the emmy magazine cover story on Welcome to Chippendales here.