Amazon's TV Reset: Can It Finally Launch a Global Hit?

The streaming giant is recalibrating its content ambition to find a 'Game of Thrones' as it scraps shows.
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Amazon Studios head Roy Price

What the heck is going on at Amazon Studios? TV observers could be forgiven for asking that question in early September.

The streaming giant is said to be taking a hard look at its original scripted programming choices amid a lack of buzz and a mere 15 Emmy nominations, far less than the 91 garnered by rival Netflix. As a result, Amazon has started to clean house, canceling pricey dramas The Last Tycoon and Z: The Beginning of Everything after one season apiece, and, sources say, is reevaluating its ambitions in the unscripted space.

The decision to drop the Christina Ricci starrer Z came months after Amazon gave a surprising second season to the series about Zelda Fitzgerald, with about $7 million spent on the now-scrapped season, sources say. Tycoon, which starred Kelsey Grammer and Matt Bomer, was produced by Sony Pictures TV's TriStar unit, and Amazon paid a licensing fee for the show.

Sources tell THR that Amazon Studios head Roy Price had reservations about making the drama based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished final novel and clashed with showrunner Billy Ray, in part because Price had been vocal about his skepticism toward the show in conversations with others in the industry. Ray was not given a chance to pitch a second season before the ax fell, according to sources. (He didn't respond to a request for comment.)

The cancellations come as Amazon is said to be reallocating its considerable financial resources in an effort to generate a Game of Thrones-level worldwide hit that can redefine its brand. The streamer found early critical success with Jill Soloway's awards darling Transparent, but that show remains a niche play, and the streamer has failed to launch a full-blown mainstream hit a la House of Cards or Stranger Things. (It also chose not to host a post-Emmys party this year.)

Reps for Amazon insist the budget for scripted originals will increase beyond the estimated $4.5 billion the company is spending in 2017; the money will just be allocated differently.

Amazon recently paid $160 million for two seasons of a drama from David O. Russell starring Robert De Niro and another $75 million for an anthology from Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner. It also is said to be millions of dollars over budget on season two of Goliath after the drama's second showrunner, Clyde Phillips, exited amid clashes with star Billy Bob Thornton.

Sources say Price and lieutenant Joe Lewis doled out $80 million to lure Woody Allen to TV for Crisis in Six Scenes. One insider describes the six-episode comedy created by and starring Allen as a "$100 million boondoggle."

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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