Transparent creator Jill Soloway and Goliath co-creator David E. Kelley weighed in Thursday on the recent executive turnover at Amazon.
The two prolific producers, who appeared as part of a “TV Game Changers” panel presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, both have series at the streaming company, which saw the exits of studio chief Roy Price, head of comedy and drama Joe Lewis, reality head Conrad Riggs and international chief Morgan Wandell, the latter of whom moved to Apple.
“It can only be good for Amazon. It was not well-run,” Kelley told The Hollywood Reporter before the panel. “I’ve gone on the record with it, and I think the changes they make show that they’ve got good management at the top, so I’m hopeful that they’ll turn that around.”
Indeed, Kelley discussed the difficult creative process at Amazon for a Wall Street Journal article earlier this month. In the story, he said its entertainment division was “a bit of a gong show.” Although Goliath has been renewed for a second season, Kelley is no longer actively involved with the Billy Bob Thornton drama. Dexter grad Clyde Phillips, who was tapped to takeover as showrunner in season two, has also exited the series.
The changes at Amazon come as the company is shifting its programming in the hopes of finding the next Game of Thrones-like breakout hit. Amazon recently canceled several series, including the pricey period dramas The Last Tycoon and Z: The Beginning of Everything. It also scrapped a planned drama starring Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore that hailed from the equally troubled Weinstein Co., despite having already put $40 million into the series.
When asked what Amazon could improve on going forward to find success in the original scripted space, Kelley once again did not mince words about the company’s previous executives.
“I think a good first step is getting grown-ups in the entertainment division, because I think that they were in over their heads,” he said. “Amazon itself is obviously a hugely well-run company, they know what they’re doing. The entertainment division now has to catch up and rise up to the bar set by the troops in Seattle, and I think they will.”
When asked if Kelley would work with Amazon again now that new executives are poised to take over the entertainment division, he said, “Sure.”
The mass exodus at Amazon began when The Man in the High Castle producer Isa Hackett (who is also a producer on the company’s upcoming anthology Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams) accused Price of harassing her and saying explicit things to her in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. She accused Price of saying “you will love my dick” to her as he repeatedly propositioned her. Hackett made clear she was not interested, but he then allegedly stepped close to her and said “anal sex” as she talked with other executives at a party. The events occurred while the two were at Comic-Con in 2015.
Hours after Hackett went public with her accusations, Price was suspended and replaced by interim studio chief COO Albert Cheng. Price then resigned from the company permanently on Oct. 17.
Soloway, who is behind two Amazon series with Transparent and I Love Dick, also expressed faith in the company’s future despite the recent turmoil: “I’m not concerned at all because I have a huge amount of faith in [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos. I think he’s one of the greatest leaders out there, and I have tons of faith that they’re going to figure it out and that they’re going to get women in higher positions and begin to change the culture of the workplace, just like every single workplace is now starting to change.”
Price had been at Amazon Studios since 2004 and had been responsible for pushing the company into the original series space with entries like Transparent. Soloway quickly became one of Amazon’s most prolific producers, winning an Emmy for the streamer and becoming one of the first to sign an overall deal there and also launching the Kevin Bacon half-hour I Love Dick in 2016. The latter has not yet been renewed for a second season. Meanwhile, Transparent is already greenlighted for a fifth season.
“Everybody at Amazon, these are people I’ve been working with for a long time. I’ve done my best to sort of stay out of the details and speak more about what we want to do, which is change the world and get more voices of women, people of color and queer people into television, movies and film, writing,” Soloway said when asked directly about the accusations made against Price. “Protagonism is privilege. Protagonism perpetuates privilege. It’s a hard time. It’s in a painful time. It’s a time of reckoning for all studios and for all businesses really. It’s happening in the art world.”
Price is just one of several well-known figures that have been accused of sexual harassment in recent months. Others include film mogul Harvey Weinstein, director James Toback, former Fox News chief Roger Ailes, former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly and The Circus co-host Mark Halperin, among others.
When asked about the dialogue happening in Hollywood, Soloway pointed to the surprise presidential election victory of Donald Trump, which came just weeks after he was caught discussing sexually harassing women on an Access Hollywood tape in which he boasted about grabbing women “by the pussy.”
“The whole world is changing right now. This is a big moment,” Soloway said. “I was thinking, ‘Why did we have to live through this? Why did this happen?’ There’s a part of me that believes that this might not have happened if Trump wasn’t president. There’s so much anger about what America said to women by electing this man. Especially after the Access Hollywood tapes that women became furious and their fury began to rise and what happened with Harvey Weinstein let out a collective roar and women are just saying ‘no more.’ It’s really one of the most exciting times for feminism and media and culture that I’ve ever lived through.”
Kelley, however, emphasized there is more work to be done following the allegations made against Weinstein and others in Hollywood. “I’m hopeful that it will change because our problem is systemic,” he said. “We can’t just pretend that changes will be made if other people make them. I think everyone has to sort of own up to this and confront the problems that we have and effect change.”