Cannes Lions: Mindy Kaling Talks Creative Freedom, Brand Integration After Hulu Switch

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Mindy Kaling

"I was used to being in a very reactionary environment," she said of working on network telelvsion before switching to the streaming service.

Mindy Kaling and Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins celebrated their one-year anniversary with a toast of champagne in Cannes while discussing their partnership on her show The Mindy Project to a packed audience at the Lions festival.

Kaling said that the vibe of the entire creative team has shifted since moving to Hulu because the company has given her more freedom to create once she was free of the weekly ratings game. She called the new mood “fantastic.”

“The mood of my entire cast and crew is dictated by the ratings and then panicky phone calls from the network on how to fix it in the script you are currently working on that won’t air for six weeks,” saying that such network notes can make a show “erratic.”

“It’s not that we don’t get notes from Hulu, but you’re very collaborative, and I was used to be being in a reactionary environment,” she told Hopkins.

Hopkins said Hulu picked up the show after it was canceled by Fox to make it the cornerstone of their original series offering because the company already had data on the success of the reruns. “It was one of the top shows on Hulu for a long time,” he said. “We were very much interested to get more involved in original programming, so what a great opportunity to take a show we already knew was successful, move it to Hulu and make the centerpiece of our original programming brand.”

He said the ratings were “killing it” on the streaming service in part because her fans are more digitally oriented.

Kaling said that the flexibility of online episodes has also given the writers “time to breathe.”

“We were doing eps as short as 20.3 minutes long [on Fox]. To tell an A, B and sometimes C story it really shortchanged some of our funniest characters. It’s given a chance for a lot of the other characters on the show to shine,” she said. Hulu episodes can be up to 27 minutes long.

The decision to keep the show weekly – instead of dropping a full season at once Netflix-style – was to appease the competitive “FOMOs” happy. “It’s ‘fear of missing out.’ This group feels pressure if they fall behind their friends and they want to be in on the conversation, so based on that and other business reasons, we decided to do once a week.”

Kaling also discussed brand integration in shows, a topic of interest to the advertising and marketing execs central to the conference, and says that while there was opposition on The Office, she doesn’t see it as “selling out.”

“I think that’s old fashioned, an outdated way to think about it,” she said. “Brand integration pays for some of the things on the show. It’s been a wonderful tool for us.” She admits that some brands, though she didn’t mention names, have attended table readings and are very integral in every step of the production process but are “well behaved and don’t want to interfere with the creative process.”

Following her two non-fiction books, Kaling says she’ll be working on a novel next. She hopes to continue to get big stars on the show. Greta Gerwin will appear later this season and Vince Vaughn and NBC news anchor Brian Williams are a on her list of hopefuls. She also noted that she met the newest Kardashian, Black Chyna, on a yacht party this week and could include her in the show. “She’s pregnant, I could be her doctor, why not?”