Winds of change are sweeping through the television landscape, to the point where there are a growing amount of TV shows that aren't even available on TV networks. With the advent of Netflix's push into original programming (House of Cards, Hemlock Grove, and the upcoming season of Arrested Development), everyone wants their own piece of the TV pie, even XBox. However, the most intriguing wrinkle in this new age of television is the dearth of new shows coming out of Amazon Studios.
You have likely heard about the Zombieland pilot on Amazon, created by the screenwriters of the hit 2009 horror-comedy Zombieland, but what you might not know is there are 13 other pilots that have been produced through Amazon Studios, six children's shows and eight "primetime" comedies. I put primetime in quotes because that archane term doesn't even apply to this model. You won't have to tune in between 8 PM and 11 PM (ET) to watch these shows, the ones that will move forward to series. All you will have to do is log on to Amazon and watch at your leisure. That's not even the best part, though.
The 14 pilots were available for anyone to watch for free and, more importantly, rate them for one month, between April 19 and May 19. Why does this matter? Because those user ratings will help Amazon determine whether or not to issue series orders for these shows. That's right, YOU, the viewer, actually hold some semblance of power over what will and will not be shown on Amazon.
What's more, anyone who has a pilot script that fits within Amazon's guidelines (they are currently only seeking primetime comedies and children's shows), can submit their shows for consideration. Several of the pilots that were produced do come from established names (Zombieland's Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick; Alpha House's Garry Trudeau, the creator of the Doonesbury comic strip), but there are also some that come from first-timers, such as Those Who Can't creators Adam Cayton-Holland and Andrew Ovredahl.
Last month, we reported that Amazon Studios ordered the primetime comedies Alpha House (a political comedy starring John Goodman about four U.S. Senators who share a house together) and Betas (a Silicon Valley-set comedy about four friends trying to get a new app off the ground) were given series orders, along with children's programs Annebots, Creative Galaxy and Tumbleaf, all of which will debut on Amazon Prime in 2014. Personally, I'm somewhat sad that my two favorites out of the primetime comedies, Those Who Can't and Dark Minions, were not picked up, but still, this format could truly revolutionize the industry.
I believe this format is a wake-up call with reverberations that will be felt throughout the TV landscape. It might not happen tomorrow, next month, or in three years, but if Amazon finds success with this model, the Big 4 and all of the cable channels may have to rethink the way they do business. It is with this in mind, that I present to you the four things TV networks can learn from Amazon Studios.
1Bring the Power Back To the People
How many times have you seen the trailer for a new show and thought, 'How did this shit get made?' I know I have, on more than a few occasions (*cough* Work It *cough*). Sadly, despite the rapid advancement of technology, that would easily make it possible for anyone and everyone who wants to watch a pilot, the long-winded process of a show making it to your television screen hasn't really changed that much since the inception of the format. Right now, as I type these words, there are scores of pilots that are being sent out to members of the TV press corps, after the networks have set their schedules. Why not let US watch the pilots early, and have OUR responses gauge what makes it on the air, instead of the usual network guesswork?
It's become abundantly clear, lately, that shows which start off with low ratings, typically never last very long. Earlier this year, Do No Harm was cancelled by NBC after just two episodes. If you don't start big, you'll be off the air quicker than a Kardashian marriage, much quicker. This wasn't always the case. In fact, NBC was dangerously close to canceling Seinfeld after its first (few) season(s), but, ultimately, the network continued to show its faith in the show, resulting in one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. Now, mind you, lackluster pilots may turn into great TV shows, and vice versa. There's no concrete way to predict what will be popular. At the same time, how hard would it be to make every pilot available online, for everyone to watch and rate themselves?
If you cut through all the bullshit, it's really all about the viewer. CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and the cable networks all want that viewer, that person who is willing to kick back at the end of the day and watch whatever show they have to offer. The networks want that, they need that. So, what boggles my mind is, why aren't they asking US what we want to watch? How hard would it be to set aside a few days or a week for those who are willing to participate in TV programming history, to put the pilots online? I would like to hope that the response to such an experiment would be overwhelming, but I'm not sure we'll ever find out...
What do YOU have to say about these points? Do you agree? Disagree? Hate the way I ask multiple questions in a row? Let your voice be heard in the comments below, and by following me on Twitter @GallagherMW.