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Amazon Studios is parting ways with another top executive.
Joe Lewis, head of comedy and drama development at the retail giant and streaming outlet, is out, Amazon confirmed Monday to The Hollywood Reporter. He will exit with a producing deal at Amazon Studios. Former Fox International exec Sharon Tal Yguado, who was hired in January to oversee event series, will now head all of scripted for Amazon.
Lewis’ exit comes after Amazon Studios programming chief Roy Price resigned from his post Oct. 17 following allegations of sexual harassment from one of the company’s top producers. Amazon Studios chief operating officer Albert Cheng, a former Disney/ABC digital exec, is taking over for Price on an interim basis. Yguado will report to Cheng. Lewis is the third top executive out at Amazon this month. Morgan Wandell, who headed international, officially signed on to serve in the same capacity at Apple.
Lewis’ departure follows news that he faced conflict of interest allegations at Amazon, where he cast his girlfriend, actress Yara Martinez, in the streamer’s scripted drama The Tick. The role, originally designed as a guest star in the pilot and conceived as a male character, was reworked after Martinez was cast and The Tick was picked up to series. She was elevated to series regular with the character retooled to a more prominent role. (It’s also worth noting that Martinez, who is engaged to Lewis, has had roles in Amazon originals Alpha House and I Love Dick.)
Lewis was also working with Price developing a series based on the latter’s idea called Shanghai Snow. Previous writers who were attached to the script at various points said that they found the material, which follows a young woman named Cindy who is sold into sex slavery, misogynistic.
Lewis joined Comedy Central in March 2012. He was one of Price’s first hires for the TV division and originally oversaw half-hour projects for Amazon. Lewis arrived from streaming TV startup Bark, where he was CEO. Before that, he was director of production at 20th Century Fox and a development manager at Comedy Central. In October 2016, Lewis was promoted to oversee comedy and drama development as then-drama head Wandell was moved to run international development. During his tenure at Amazon, Lewis developed series including Red Oaks, Mozart in the Jungle, Tig Notaro’s One Mississippi and the U.K. imports Fleabag and Catastrophe, as well as Transparent and Woody Allen’s since-canceled Crisis in Six Scenes.
While Amazon found critical success with Jill Soloway’s Transparent, Price and his top lieutenant Lewis more recently had come under fire for their programming choices as the streamer has yet to produce a breakout hit in the same way rival Netflix did with Stranger Things, 13 Reasons Why and Orange Is the New Black. (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 primetime awards show empty-handed.)
Producers, including David E. Kelley — who developed Goliath for Amazon but stepped down as showrunner after season one — have described challenges of working for the streamer. “Their entertainment division is a bit of a gong show,” Kelley said in October. “They are in way over their heads.” (Goliath went on to score a season two renewal with showrunner Clyde Phillips exiting after creative differences with star Billy Bob Thornton. Amazon is said to have backed its star instead of the showrunner, who had already written all 10 episodes with executives signing off on all of them.)
Amazon is in the midst of a programming pivot as it searches for a global hit a la Game of Thrones as it shifts away from niche programming geared toward Los Angeles’ hipster neighborhood Silver Lake.
To that end,the company recently hired Yguado to oversee event series and genre programming as it looks to change gears. In preparation, the company has been busy axing a number 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.
Amazon approached Paramount Television president Amy Powell over the summer. Yguado was considered a top candidate to take over after she helped turn The Walking Dead into a global phenomenon when she was at Fox International. It’s unclear if Cheng will continue to serve as the head of Amazon Studios in a more permanent basis as Amazon is said to be searching for a female executive to take over. Powell, sources say, is no longer in consideration.
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