by Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
Online retailer Amazon, the latest entrant in original TV programming, is asking viewers to help it decide which pilots to bring to series.
Starting today, Amazon Studios is posting 14 program pilots, eight comedies and six children's programs, for free online at Amazon Instant Video or via any Amazon Instant Video app. Viewer feedback and commentary will be one factor in determining which shows are picked up as series.
"There's no automatic or mechanistic way that will influence the choice of which shows get a series order, but we'll put it all together and figure out what story it's telling and it will play a major role in deciding which shows get ordered," says Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios.
"We're trying to develop or find shows that will be popular with Amazon customers, so who better to ask than Amazon customers themselves," he says.
The comedy pilots feature such stars as John Goodman, Jeffrey Tambor and Bebe Neuwirth, and their budgets are generally comparable to what is spent for a premium cable or broadcast half-hour comedy, Price says. "People expect a polished, high-quality show, and that's what we want to deliver."
After watching a pilot, viewers will be able to take a survey or leave a traditional review on the website.
Shows that go to series, likely 13 episodes a season, will be available to customers of Amazon Prime, a $79-a-year subscription service. The comedy shows likely would run about 22 minutes, roughly the length of a half-hour broadcast comedy without commercials, although Amazon has leeway on length.
Amazon opened up the creative pipeline, too, receiving more than 4,000 uploaded scripts at AmazonStudios.com as part of its development process. One of those submissions became the pilot Those Who Can't, one of the programs that will be available to viewers. Others are in development.
Others came from major entertainment studios, such as Sony's Zombieland, and established TV writers, such as Browsers from The Daily Show's David Javerbaum.
"One thing about having a customer-driven process is you can try more things and you can be really open to new ideas and experimental ideas," Price says. "If you're not going to do any pilots and you're just going to put all the chips in on this one notion, then that notion has to be right down the middle of the fairway. I think we're very comfortable with a system that allows us to be very experimental and to respond as much as possible to customer preferences."
Amazon is the latest entity to try a non-traditional approach as it enters the original TV game. Netflix caused a stir earlier this year when it made the entire season of House of Cards available at the same time to subscribers.
The comedy pilots include:
• Alpha House - John Goodman and Mark Consuelos star in this pilot from Doonesbury's Garry Trudeau that follows four senators who live together in a rented house in Washington, D.C.
• Onion News Empire - Jeffrey Tambor plays the Onion News Network's egomaniacal lead anchor and William Sadler the harried news director in this look behind the scenes at a network news operation.
• Browsers - Bebe Neuwirth is the terrifying boss in this musical comedy that follows four young Manhattanites working at their first jobs at Gush, a news website. The pilot was written by Emmy winner Javerbaum.
• Zombieland - In this pilot, based on the Columbia Pictures film of the same name, four survivors try to outwit the zombie hordes.
• Betas - Ed Begley Jr. is featured in this look at a quartet of computer geeks in search of the next great app.
• Those Who Can't - Three misfit teachers, who can be just as juvenile as their students, plot revenge against a high-school hotshot who is causing them grief.
• Dark Minions - This stop-motion, animated comedy looks at two slackers who get jobs on an evil space station. The voice cast includes Richard Kind, Clancy Brown and Phil LaMarr.
Supanatural -- Another animated comedy, Supanatural looks at the lives of two divas who are humanity's last line of defense against the supernatural.
The children's pilots, aimed at ages 2 to 5, include five animated shows: Sara Solves It, Creative Galaxy, Oz Adventures, Teeny Tiny Dogs and Annebots. Tumbleaf is a stop-motion program. Producers include Blue's Clues Angela Santomero (Sara Solves It, Creative Galaxy) and The Jim Henson Company (Teeny Tiny Dogs).
"I think is a terrific kids' TV slate," Price say. "It is really a terrific all-star lineup of super-talented creators trying to do something new with respect to kids' entertainment and education. I hope parents find it to be both fun and worthwhile."
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