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Roy Price likely trotted out on stage at the Television Critics Association’s summer tour Monday expecting to take a victory lap. But the Amazon Studios chief, along with his top executives Morgan Wandell (drama) and Joe Lewis (comedy), got no such opportunity.
The afternoon panel focused neither on their Emmy bounty nor their handful of beloved programs, led by transgender-themed Transparent; instead, their half-hour before the television press featured a series of questions about the streaming service’s controversial subjects and passed-over projects, all of which they were either unwilling or, worse, unprepared to answer. Though the executives were tossed the occasional softball — think: how is success measured on a network that doesn’t divulge ratings? — the tenor of their panel was far from celebratory, with Price and his (considerably quieter) team often on the defensive.
The session kicked off with a question that was both direct and widely expected — at least by those who’d been following the Top Gear saga of late: Was Amazon prepared to deal with the all-but-inevitable controversy that will come with its newly announced car series from the former Gear hosts?
“There is a lot to focus on other than that,” Price said of the Gear trio’s checkered past, which famously prompted a host of apologies — for comments about Mexicans, about Asians, about women — from former network home, the BBC. When asked a follow-up about whether Price’s team had had discussions with the unfiltered hosts — Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May — about what was off-limits on their forthcoming Amazon series, he all but shut down: “I can’t comment on the details of our discussions or contracts or anything like that, but we’re bullish about the show and we think it’ll turn out well.”
Question No. 2 kept the discussion in the Beverly Hilton ballroom centered on potential controversy, this time focused on Woody Allen, for whom Amazon has made a six-episode gamble. Specifically, why did Price and his executives court Allen so aggressively, and did they do so with any concerns about those allegations of sexual abuse that trail him?
On his first pass, Price addressed only the positives that come with an Allen association: “Woody Allen is one of the greatest filmmakers America has ever produced,” he told the room. “And when we talk about what would be a great inspiration for a show, a lot of Woody Allen films kept coming up … so then we just thought, what if we asked Woody Allen himself to do a show.” When pressed a second time about whether he took into account the allegations when adding Allen to his roster, Price seemed to grow more uncomfortable. “I think you have to look at the whole picture, but focus on … ” he trailed off. “So yeah, [you] take everything into account … but our focus is on the fact that he’s a great filmmaker and storyteller and we look forward to the show in 2016.”
That evasive approach to the room’s questions — in keeping with the service’s unwillingness to provide analytics — continued for the remainder of the session, Amazon’s first formal executive panel at the semi-annual conference. Another example came late in the panel, when Price was asked to address the demise of Chris Carter’s sci-fi thriller The After, which was scrapped after being ordered to series (and being presented before the TCA). He tried to get away with another non-answer answer: “Not everything works out.” When that didn’t satisfy, the same reporter tried again, wondering aloud whether budget issues were to blame. “It wasn’t the money,” he said from stage. “It was a tough concept, and hard to crack. Who knows, maybe it will come together one day?”
Price — who is not the first (and likely won’t be the last) to stand on the TCA stage and dodge question after question — was no more forthcoming on the subject of viewership figures (“flat-out viewership numbers can be a little distracting”), ideal output (“if something new is coming out every three to four weeks, that’s a lot going on … we’ll have to find over the next year: is that a little light, or a little high”) or the company’s global rollout plans. In fact, to the latter, he simply smiled and said, “We don’t comment on future plans, so we’ll just have to stay tuned … ”
But it was in response to a question about the impact of Netflix — specifically, how much of Price’s time is spent thinking about the streaming rival — that many in that ballroom found themselves wondering where the session had gone wrong. “If someone told me, ‘Netflix is doing a show about a fire department or something,’ then, like, I don’t know. What we do with that information? Like, nothing,” Price said to confused looks scattered about the room, before riffing more eloquently on how much the TV business has changed in recent years: “I think it’s more like the book business or the record business [in that] you really just have to focus on customers and creators. If you’re going to release a particular album, just worry about that album being fantastic.”
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