Streaming service Hulu made Emmy history on Sunday by becoming the first digital platform to win a top series award with its dystopian saga “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
The Hulu series adapted from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book won best drama, the most prestigious award of the night, and seven other awards including best drama actress for Elisabeth Moss.
The recognition at TV’s highest honors was a breakout moment for Hulu, which had failed to win the critical acclaim and buzz generated by Netflix and Amazon.com as streaming services uprooted traditional Hollywood. “Handmaid’s Tale” triumphed over Netflix’s supernatural thriller “Stranger Things,” NBC’s “This is Us” and others.
Overall, longtime Emmy heavyweight HBO won the most awards with 29 wins, even without its mega-hit “Game of Thrones.” The reigning best drama winner was not eligible because it aired too late in the year for consideration.
HBO’s “Veep” took home the best comedy trophy for the third straight year, and “Big Little Lies” was named best limited series.
“Thank you to HBO for never wavering in your belief in us,” star Nicole Kidman said on stage as she accepted the award for best actress in a limited series. HBO is owned by Time Warner.
The prestige and publicity surrounding the Emmys can help networks attract new viewers in a crowded TV marketplace where broadcasters, cable channels, and digital platforms are battling for audiences.
“Handmaid’s Tale” already has drawn more new subscribers to Hulu than any other original or acquired show, Hulu said at a Television Critics Association event in July.
Its creators said Hulu reaped the rewards by taking on a risky proposal.
Writer Bruce Miller credited Hulu with supporting a controversial series about a society in which women are forced into sexual servitude. Hulu is owned by traditional media companies Walt Disney, 21st Century Fox, Comcast, and Time Warner.
“There were so many times I presented something or pitched something,” Miller told reporters backstage, “and I was sure they were going to say there was no way you can do that on television.”
“They were always enthusiastic and encouraging,” he added. “It’s not an easy show to make. It’s rough stuff. They were brave and committed to making the book into a television show.”
Netflix won 20 Emmys including best supporting drama actor for John Lithgow in “The Crown” and best comedy writing “Master of None.”
Broadcast network NBC, owned by Comcast, won 15 awards. Its comedy sketch show “Saturday Night Live” collected nine. (Disclosure: Comcast is parent of CNBC.)