As The Mindy Projectenjoys a midseason break on Hulu, it’s a good time to examine how the former broadcast comedy is holding up in its new home. Some view the move from TV to over-the-top as a ticket to the minors, but several industry watchers see Mindy-to-Hulu as a snug fit for both. After all, Mindy needed a home, and Hulu needs original series to take the fight to Netflix.
As Yahoo learned with its Community debacle—the company took a $42-million impairment charge on the show and two original series—revivifying a low-rated comedy, no matter how passionate its fans are, is hardly risk-free. But David Smith, CEO of media consultancy SmithGeiger, says the Mindy brand—creator and lead Mindy Kaling is a social media star and best-selling author—has the cultural resonance to weather a reboot. “In this fragmented media environment, you have a known entity,” he says. “It’s easy to get the word out when you have name recognition.”
Produced by Universal Television and 3 Arts Entertainment, The Mindy Project was canceled after three seasons on Fox in May. But Mindy reruns performed well enough on Hulu that it committed to 26 new episodes. Craig Erwich, Hulu senior VP and head of content, called it a “natural extension” when the deal was announced.
Hulu did not comment for this story or supply viewing figures; Universal Television and 3 Arts did not comment either. One Universal executive, speaking on background, said the transition “really has been smooth and easy.”
Hulu, jointly owned by Disney, 21st Century Fox and NBCUniversal, has traditional TV DNA. It has in excess of 9 million subscribers and a median age of 33. In September, CEO Mike Hopkins—like Mindy Project, he was at Fox prior to moving to Hulu—announced an ad-free version for $11.99 a month.
While Hulu has been spending substantially to acquire blue-chip off-network series, such as Inside Amy Schumer, Empire and Fargo, originals are how a successful network defines itself. “Hulu needs to beef up its original product lineup to attract more paying subscribers,” says Dominic Caristi, telecommunications professor at Ball State University. “Their exclusives don’t compare to the star power of Netflix or Amazon.”
Hulu has not announced when the new batch of Mindy episodes debuts.
Not everyone views Mindy’s move as a win. Deborah Jaramillo, assistant professor of film and television studies at Boston University, likens the shift to a “straight-to-DVD” movie. “There’s just a different vibe that’s attached to a show that isn’t considered successful on a network,” she believes, “and has to transition to a streaming service for life support.”
Mindy has more than 503,000 Facebook fans, falling between Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine (496,000) and ABC’s Blackish (845,000), while Kaling herself has 645,000—along with nearly 5.5 million Twitter followers. Others shepherding TV series with middling ratings are watching the Mindy-on-Hulu model. Says Brian Wieser, analyst at Pivotal Research: “Properties that are critically well-regarded but low rated have a decent shot, if the math works, to make it in this environment.”