Amazon's Jennifer Salke Still Hoping for More 'Fleabag'

Jennifer Salke and Jess Cagle attend The Paley Center For Media Presents: Cocktails and Conversation - Getty -H 2019
Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

Between a big weekend at the Emmys and landing an overall deal with Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Amazon has had quite a week. In an event at the Paley Center on Thursday, Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke broke down those buzzy last few days, starting with the viral photo of triple winner Waller-Bridge — cigarette and cocktail in hand — surrounded by her Emmy statuettes as she reclined in a lounge chair. 

"I stare endlessly, as I'm sure many people do, and it's like a meme going around now, of her in her gown at 2:30 smoking with disturbed makeup and surrounded by all of those trophies," Salke told SiriusXM chief entertainment anchor Jess Cagle, who moderated the conversation. "It's incredible, she's pretty special." 

On Tuesday, the acclaimed actress-writer-producer signed a significant overall deal with Amazon, which Salke hinted has been months in the making, visiting her during her live one-woman show to talk possible upcoming films and TV projects. Though Waller-Bridge has repeatedly said Fleabag will not return for a third season, the Amazon exec seems less convinced. 

"I'm a believer — I'll have to really know that firmly and see evidence of that before I really buy in. Right now I still see, 'Yeah, no,' but there seems to be a slight twinkle," Salke said of the show really being finished. "People probably think I'm in denial, and there's nothing to base that on except my own intuition. I believe as a human being, given all of the accolades she's received this week and seeing the love for the show that's clearly endless and passionate, she's probably thinking to herself, 'Geez, do I have another story to tell here? Because people love this.' That's how I'd be feeling if I was in [her] situation." 

Waller-Bridge, who is also writing the James Bond No Time to Die script, hasn't publicly said what she'll do next under the deal. Salke is ready for whatever comes: "I kind of just don't bug her but I'm an invisible stalker; she knows I'm sitting there but I'm willing to support whatever she wants to do. Whatever it is will be personal and original and incredible." 

Salke also discussed some of the streamer's upcoming slate, which includes Jordan Peele's Nazi hunter series The Hunt, starring Al Pacino and Logan Lerman dropping in February; Barry Jenkins' Underground Railroad, with the filmmaker writing and directing every episode of the show based on Colson Whitehead's novel; and the Russo Brothers' international spy series, which will feature a U.S.-based ensemble of people living double lives, and will then spin off each of the characters to create localized international shows set in India, Italy, Germany and Latin America. 

Lena Waithe and newcomer Little Marvin are also developing anthology series Them: Covenant, which Salke called "maybe the best pitch I've ever heard," and sparked a bidding war with Netflix.  "We ended up ordering two seasons of it," she said. Thank you, Netflix, for the hard competition — I came out with like blood all over my face but we got it." 

Salke also revealed conversations she's had with Nicole Kidman about "psychosexual thrillers and these sexy movies and how no one is making them anymore, so yeah she's producing a couple of those for us," as well as being a producer "and hopefully more" on drama series The Expatriates.

Salke, who has been at Amazon nearly 18 months after moving over from NBC, said her team's strategy is focused on curation over volume, comparing the service more to HBO than to Netflix, with a focus on the global audience. She also dove into the film side of the business, discussing the strategy to buying Late Night and Brittany Runs a Marathon at Sundance with an Amazon Prime customer focus, while in contrast, picking up Shia LaBeouf's Honey Boy and The Report for an awards strategy.

Though Late Night didn't perform well at the box office, Salke said, "We don't evaluate our movie performance based on theatrical tickets sold. We didn't pretend to think we would suddenly have 30 million people watching the movie in the theaters." That said, she added, "Within two weeks of being on Prime, the movie has been watched by more people than any movie in the U.S.

"People can say, 'Oh that failed, you must have gotten a spanking,' and I'm like, 'Well I didn't, but whatever you want to say.'"