Amazon Studios Director Criticizes Netflix's Release Model
The company premieres its first two scripted programs, "Alpha House" and "Betas," later this month: "We get the note often that you don't have to make it like regular TV," Michael Lehmann, "Betas" director/EP, admits.
Amazon Studios director Roy Price isn't fond of Netflix's full-season launch strategy and he made that clear -- albeit subtly -- at an Academy of Television Arts & Sciences event Thursday evening.
When Amazon Studios launches its first two scripted originals, political satire Alpha House and tech start-up sitcom Betas, the first three episodes of each will premiere on Nov. 15 and 22, respectively, before one new episode will be rolled out each week. Netflix, meanwhile, releases entire runs of its originals, such as House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, on a single day.
"If you release all at once, there's concern that it's hard to talk about the show," Price said. "I don't know if you've seen four episodes and I've seen six … I can't really say anything except 'I like the show.' It's a little bit of a problem. And it kind of takes away one of the fun things about a TV show, which is saying, 'Hey did you see that?' and 'What do you think is going to happen with blah blah blah?' "
Price emphasized that social media discussion around binge-watched shows dropped exponentially compared to more traditional TV offerings, though he did not provide specifics.
"If you compare the social media conversation on Twitter and Facebook of the first 30 days of a normal show, it goes down a bit. But with the binge-watched shows, it goes down more severely," he claimed. "So it was both an intuition and something we observed in the marketplace. We thought, let's meet in the middle ... and see how that goes."
How Amazon Studios utilizes its data gathered from users' and subscribers' behaviors and viewing habits also plays in to how it targets areas of focus for creating new programming, though that isn't an exact science.
"You can look at the genres that people respond to. You can look at the shows people respond to. You can look at a lot of data," Price said. "One way we can interpret data is we can sit here and we can say, all right, Downton Abbey -- super popular, high quality, great show, people love it on Amazon. Breaking Bad -- innovative, groundbreaking, people are passionate about the show. Let's put them together!"
Or the "better path," as Price termed it, is partnering with a "passionate, talented creator" with a singular vision that's distinctive, which he said often leads to success. Both Alpha House and Betas had that characteristic, Price touted, with Garry Trudeau the man behind the former and a team of writers and producers behind the latter.
For Trudeau, a seasoned veteran who wrote HBO's Tanner '88 and created the politically tinged Doonesbury comic strip, there was hesitancy to jump into an online-based effort. He admitted that he "hadn't seen great television on the web" and there was the perception that Amazon Studios wouldn't be able to provide ample support to produce "HBO-quality" shows, though that fear was later quelled.
The other worry was the democratization of the pilot-to-series process. Earlier this year, Amazon Studios asked viewers to vote for the pilots -- more than a dozen of them -- they wished to continue on as a series. "We were very concerned that these shows would be put up and they would be troll bait," Trudeau admitted. "They would be these huge targets and the feedback would not be that meaningful because it'd be so skewed … but I guess the sheer numbers way overwhelmed any problem we may have had with that." (Trudeau said he wasn't privy to those numbers.)
Betas, well-represented at the TV Academy event with six producers and writers and half a dozen castmembers in attendance, landed at Amazon Studios simply because the creative team knew a Silicon Valley project was on the company's "want" list. It was a culture that hadn't been accurately represented in the media, executive producer Michael London said, adding, "We thought they might take a chance."
Though Betas, created and written by Evan Endicott and Josh Stoddard, was developed in a similar fashion to the studio development process, the notes that the writers and producers have thus far received have been far from conventional.
"We get the note often that you don't have to make it like regular TV," said Betas director/executive producer Michael Lehmann, who helmed the similarly themed Internet boom feature 40 Days and 40 Nights.
A prime example of not being held to traditional broadcast standards is Alpha House, centered on four D.C. politicians (one of them played by John Goodman) who live in a house together. A clip package featured Bill Murray's alter ego screaming the F-word several times -- in a comedic context -- in the span of just a few seconds.
Amazon Studios owns both Alpha House and Betas, but Price said they are open to teaming with outside producers, citing Sony Pictures TV's Zombieland pilot, which did not make it to series, as an example.
A smaller audience is sometimes better, especially in an on-demand environment, Price posited.
"If you take one show and nine out of 10 people think it's good-ish, it's pretty good right?" he said. "But if you take the other show and six out of 10 people are pretty indifferent to it but two or three are passionate, in an on-demand environment, the second show may be more distinctive, more valuable and adding value to the set of TV choices that people have."