TCA Journal No. 5: Woody Allen, Game-Changer

Woody Allen - H - 2014
Associated Press

On the day that two more online content providers -- Yahoo and Crackle -- tried to get some notice at the Television Critics Association press tour, Amazon Studios decided to announce a game-changer.

The online retailer with its own studio -- a studio that had been cranking out increasingly better material each iteration of its pilot process -- decided correctly that the best thing to do in a robust news cycle with positive spin is to pile on. It announced, just two days after taking home two big awards at the Golden Globes for its series Transparent, that it has struck a deal for Woody Allen to write and direct his first ever television series.

Now, let's be clear on something first: Trotting out the old "movie stars and directors are coming to television" idea like it's a trend piece is, at minimum, five years too late. Everybody's in the TV business because television long ago stopped being the ugly cousin and has arguably produced better material for some time now. At the very least, television was the savior for women of a certain age who couldn't get cast in the film world's archaic notion of A) sexuality and B) who is young, popular and hot enough to open a huge box office weekend.

After that, writers and directors flocked over in droves because television allowed them to tell longer and better stories with nuance and depth, requiring no Marvel or D.C. Comics backstory or the need to blow shit up at an alarming rate in the first 20 minutes just to get someone's attention (and their $10 or $15 or whatever it is these days for a ticket).

No, long before Woody Allen came to television, television had already been a premiere destination for writers, directors and actors interesting in better stories than the film world, with its ridiculous constraints, would allow them to tell.

That said, signing Allen is a big, big deal.

Because it's Woody Allen.

Yes, you no doubt have lots of opinions about him and his personal life. Everybody does. But he's one of the last holdouts in film to cross over to television and arguably the last truly big fish left. Martin Scorsese directed the pilot to and served as executive producer on HBO's Boardwalk Empire, in addition to executive producing other TV projects and doing things such as The Blues documentary for PBS. Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh and a bevy of others beat Allen to television.

But Allen, despite making films that are hit and miss with both critics and audiences, is a very big deal for Amazon Studios and, just by association, other digital content companies. His shift of screens might be immeasurable but his is the kind of name that gets people who are not plugged into either the film and television industries or the tech industry to pay attention and think, "Wait, what's this Amazon TV show thing?"

And that's really the tipping point needed to complete the rewiring of the American brain on what the hell is happening (and has been happening) to the television industry. TV, as a thing produced by three and then four broadcast networks, to be consumed on a couch with the entire family present at that moment is, obviously, a relic of a bygone era.

But as everybody -- including so many people who have come through the TCA press tour -- has mentioned, wrapping one's head around all the changes is a bit daunting. Things are moving fast. Hell, on Sunday Amazon showed a lot of people who didn't know that it actually does more than sell products in the ether -- it makes its own television shows and one of those was apparently a pretty big thing at the Golden Globes. Not everybody gets clues to the revolution at the same time, you know.

Think about how many people are still getting their Netflix films in the mail. While it's probably not true that all the early adoptors to anything live exclusively on the coasts, it is true that full-on change doesn't happen until everybody in the middle and surrounding environs have absorbed the change and consider it second nature.

From HDTV to DVRs and streaming, the entirety of a movement isn't completed until everybody knows what the hell you're talking about. It's the theory of inclusiveness crossed with some scientific absorption rate equals "duh -- of course I know there's an app for the Woody Allen TV series."

Now, whether Allen actually gets this done or not -- he said, jokingly in a statement,  "My guess is that (Amazon Studios head) Roy Price will regret this" -- remains to seen, but Amazon said the untitled comedy series will be available next year (which sounds like Allen's movie-a-year-pace will have to take a slight detour).

But if Price and Amazon can give Allen the structure he needs to get a series up and running, then sometime in 2016 we might be sitting down and streaming/bingeing Allen's first TV series.

I, for one, would be all over that.

What Price did by meeting with, of all people, Woody Allen, about doing a TV series for the first time in his life and having it made by an online business model, is just further change the game along with one-upping, at least temporarily, everybody else who hadn't thought of asking Allen if maybe this was possible or not.

If I was Netflix or Hulu right now, I'd be selling Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater and Kathryn Bigelow pretty hard on making some television.


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