"Watch. Rate. Review."
That mandate followed each of the trailers for Amazon Prime's upcoming series shown at the Television Critics Assocation fall previews on Monday. In the spirit of Amazon's user-generated feedback, here's TVGuide.com's take on how a very promising day at press tour devolved into a mess in which the execs reacted to questions with defensiveness, deflection and diatribes that frankly sounded somewhat drunk.
Amazon has every reason to be proud of its award-winning original series Transparent, but the streaming service wants you to know they're more than that one show. Even if you haven't watched the critically acclaimed Bosch — Amazon Prime's most-watched series in both the U.S. and the U.K. — there are lots more to watch this fall. A quick rundown:
- Hand of God, which premieres Sept. 4, stars Ron Perlman as judge who moonlights as a vigilante bent on finding his daughter-in-law's rapist.
- Red Oaks, which premieres Oct. 9, is a quirky comedy that is like "Caddyshack and The Graduate had a baby," according to co-star Jennifer Grey. And she's right!
- Man in the High Castle, which premieres Nov. 20, is an ambitious drama that imagines a world in which the Axis powers won World War II.
- Transparent, which returns for its second season on Dec. 4, promises a wedding, flashbacks and perhaps even an ear piercing. Yassss, queen!
- Mozart in the Jungle, which returns for its second season in January, boasts two episodes shot entirely in Mexico City.
In addition, two new pilots that debut on Friday may make you take notice, if only to allow you to participate in the "Watch. Rate. Review." process.
The first is Casanova, a brightly colored historical drama about the famed lothario (Diego Luna) who also was a spy, diplomat and entrepreneur. Next, the serio-comic Sneaky Pete, which comes from Bryan Cranston and David Shore, feels like it shares DNA with Breaking Bad. Giovanni Ribisi stars as an ex-con who masquerades as the grandson of a couple who runs a bail bonds business. Take a look:
So far so great, right? Somehow, we don't think Sneaky Pete will have any problems getting green-lit by viewers to become a full-fledged series. All of these fun presentations happened before the Amazon executive session at press tour though. Which brings us to...
We're docking one star for this response to a critic who wanted to know what sorts of conversations Amazon had with the Top Gear team before striking their deal, especially given Jeremy Clarkson's history of poor behavior that includes racism, sexism and even violence, which got him fired from his last job:
"You know, I think, if you look at this show and, sort of, the greatest group of history, they've produced a great show for many years, and, you know, one thing is not you know, I think there's a lot to focus on other than that," said Amazon Studios head Roy Price, according to an official transcript. "So I think we feel very bullish that it's going be a fun show that their fans around the world are going to love." Although the reporter tried to follow-up, Price said, "You know, I can't comment on all of the details of our discussions or contracts or anything like that, but we are bullish about the show, and we think it will turn out well."
Price gave a similar answer when another critic asked about Amazon's decision to create a television series with Woody Allen, knowing that Dylan Farrow's sexual assault allegations would inevitably resurface.
"You know, Woody Allen is one of the greatest filmmakers America has ever produced, and we are going to be talking about, people are going to be talking about Woody's films for a long, long time," said Price. "And I think when we talk about what kind of show would be, you know, what would be a great, sort of, inspiration for a show, a lot of Woody Allen films kept coming up, with Annie Hall or what have you. And so then we just thought, 'Well, what if we actually asked Woody Allen himself to do a show?' And so I think that was really our focus."
These two answers are of a piece, namely that Amazon has chosen the artist as a creator and has turned a blind eye to the person. And, to be fair, many people make this choice when they continue to watch The Cosby Show or Roman Polanski films. We just wish that Amazon weren't so dismissive about the subject, as if these concerns aren't worthy of an actual response.
We're subtracting another star for this bit of hypocrisy of their democratic "Watch. Rate. Review." process that allows viewers to green-light pilots. Price had said this was implemented to make programming decisions "open and inclusive to as many people as possible so that we make better decisions about what gets ordered." Why then, did Amazon bypass this to hand Woody Allen six episodes straight out?
"I think it's a mistake to have a rule that's ultimately counterproductive to getting the best series on air for customers," said Joe Lewis, head of comedy.
Morgan Wandell, head of drama, chimed in, "Networks make different decisions all the time based on the circumstances or, you know, who what the attachments are to particular kinds of projects, and I think we look at our jobs as we have to have the best shows. We have to have the best projects and the best shows to keep our customers and our audience really engaged, and that's what we are doing. That's what we are trying to do."
"That's the one thing we are religious about," added Price.
If Amazon can just decide to order a series without having it jump though the much vaunted "Watch. Rate. Review." pilot hoops, then is that feedback process all just for show? It was becoming clear at this point that the execs had not been prepped on how to answer certain questions and often stayed "on message" even if it didn't make sense in an answer. Even if Amazon had claimed the review process was only implemented on shows that they were unsure of, that would have come off better.
We're striking off another star for this vague answer about why Chris Carter's pilot for The After, a post-apocalyptic drama, was received well enough to be ordered as an eight-episode series, was promoted at a previous press tour, but then was unceremoniously canceled with no other episodes produced.
"You know, not everything works out over the course of time," said Price. "There will be the occasional thing that somehow doesn't work out, and, you know, that's just the way it goes. It wasn't the money. It was it was a tough concept and hard to crack, and, you know, who knows. Maybe it will come together one day."
Since the fans had reviewed the pilot strongly enough for Amazon to order eight episodes, the concept wasn't hard for viewers to grasp. What, then, was Amazon's problem with Carter's vision? This response again dismissed the question as not even worth answering on any meaningful level.
"The thing about extending a show is that you would always be doing, this is not a reflection on Hannibal in particular, but you would always be doing that or you would usually be doing that, let's say, instead of doing, like, the first season of a new show. And the first season of a new show could become, you know, the fantastic new signature show for the network, whereas a show that you could pick up that is coming out for network or something, usually, if you have the opportunity to pick it up, it's kind of a marginally solid show. Almost never, like, truly is it a signature — a fantastic show that is going to be a signature show, and so it's often hard to decide, 'Yeah, let's not try a new show. Let's bet on getting a solid outcome.' Like, we are not really in the solid outcome business, you know. We are not really in the programming business, you know. People, like there used to be a market and there isn't in On Demand — for that show. And, again, no reflection on Hannibal. We are not talking about Hannibal anymore, but, you know, that show that would kind of get you from 8:30 to 9:00, you know, a solid goodish show.
"And in an on-demand world, like, that show doesn't have value because people aren't going to demand it. It's not going to be their favorite show. It's not going to be a significant show for them, and so you really have to try to be in the 'new, interesting, passionate performance, that's the best thing I've ever written' business. And you are not always going to get that, but that's always what you have to strive for. And when you if you fail, when you fail, you have to fail trying to do that, not don't fail trying to be, like, solid, because that's a super bummer because you are you set your sights low and then you missed. Bummer." Um, what?
The critic made another attempt to get a more solid answer, asking if Amazon passed because Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller had another commitment that would delay production on Season 4. Perhaps it was more like throwing the Amazon execs a bone. Wandell jumped on that excuse and said, "That's true. That was a factor. He had another Starz show that was going, and it was going to be a year until, hopefully, he was ready to even start production again. And that was a factor." Well, why didn't you say so in the first place? Maybe because this might not be the real answer?
We'd like to reiterate that this was a review of Amazon's executive session at the annual Television Critics Association fall previews press tour, not a review of Amazon itself or its programming. The point is that TV critics are die-hard television fans and are supposed to ask those hard questions in order to get answers that hopefully our readers will also want to hear. The evasions, the double-speak, the roundaboutation all added up to a very frustrating session, probably on both sides.
We're leaving the one star because the panelists didn't get defensive to the point of directly insulting the critics, unlike some panels in the past. Also, the free two-day shipping.
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