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One day after Amazon Studios suspended its top exec, Roy Price, over a sexual harassment claim, the company’s vp business development Jeff Blackburn issued a memo to employees addressing harassment.
“The news coming out of Hollywood over the past week has been shocking and disturbing — and unfortunately we are a part of it. It’s sad and very disappointing to me,” reads Blackburn’s memo, as obtained by BuzzFeed News. “Amazon does not tolerate harassment or abuse of our employees or our business partners. If a concern is brought to our attention, we investigate it quickly and thoroughly.”
The move to suspend Price came hours after Isa Hackett, a producer on Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, detailed in an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter her “shocking and surreal” experience with the programming chief in July 2015. “You will love my dick,” Price said, according to Hackett, who relayed her account to others. The producer says she reported the incident immediately to Amazon executives. An outside investigator, Public Interest Investigations Inc.’s Christine Farrell, was brought in to speak to Hackett as well as Amazon execs. Hackett says she was never told the outcome of that inquiry, but notes that she hasn’t seen Price at any events involving her shows. (Price, through a spokesperson, declined comment.) Friday’s Amazon memo arrived more than a month after the existence of the alleged incident and subsequent investigation were previously reported by website The Information.
The memo, which thanks chief operating officer Albert Cheng for taking over as the interim global head of Prime Video content, goes on to reiterate that Amazon is reviewing its two series with The Weinstein Co. — the $75 million anthology The Romanoffs, from Mad Men creator Matt Weiner, and the $160 million David O. Russell drama. “The team is moving as quickly as possible to close on a resolution,” Blackburn told staff, while reiterating his “optimistic” outlook for the future of Amazon Studios. Sources tell THR that Amazon has already spent $40 million on the untitled Russell drama and has not received any funding from The Weinstein Co., despite the fact that both shows were to be co-financed by both companies.
Amazon’s relations with Harvey Weinstein again became part of the news narrative Thursday when actress Rose McGowan fired off a string of tweets to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. The first: “@JeffBezos I told the head of your studio that HW raped me. Over & over I said it. He said it hadn’t been proven. I said I was the proof.” She went on to allege that a script she had in development with the company was later killed. The tweets received heavy attention in part because this was the first time that McGowan had identified her assailant by name.
As for Price, his tenure at Amazon dates back to 2004. During that time, he has overseen the launch of its digital video store and, later, its streaming service. Amazon’s foray into scripted series has yielded mixed results, with a string of high-profile producers recently going public with their frustrations about working with the streamer. Among them: Goliath creator David E. Kelley, who described Price’s entertainment division as “a bit of a gong show” in a scathing Wall Street Journal piece about the company’s latest struggles in Hollywood.
Though Amazon’s Jill Soloway comedy Transparent, starring Jeffrey Tambor, became a critical favorite, and Man in the High Castle and Goliath are said to have been among the streamer’s most-viewed originals, none of them has broken out the way Stranger Things, 13 Reasons Why and Orange Is the New Black have for rival Netflix. And it was Hulu that became the first streamer to take home a best drama series Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale, while Amazon walked away from the awards show empty-handed.
In an acknowledgement of those challenges, the company is currently in the process of a strategy pivot. Looking ahead, Amazon will turn its focus to more global event series a la Game of Thrones. In preparation, the company has been enlisted Sharon Tal Yguado to lead the push for genre programming and has been busy axing a series of pricey dramas already on its service, including The Last Tycoon and Z: The Beginning of Everything, the latter of which was canceled after a surprise season two renewal.
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