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Amazon’s flawed series production model…

Posted on November 20th, 2015
Posted on November 20th, 2015

by Coop Cooper

Back in January, Amazon released an online-only pilot episode for “The Man in the High Castle”, based on the celebrated 1962 sci-fi novel by Philip K. Dick. The episode was free to watch to Amazon Prime members and gained acclaim by both critics and audiences. Based on the strength of the pilot and the reaction to it, Amazon ordered a full season of the show and went into production. On October 23rd, the second episode was released, and as of November 20th the rest of the episodes have been released all at once, similar to the Netflix release strategy. But unlike Netflix, Amazon took ten whole months between releasing the pilot and the rest of the series. That was plenty of time for most people who saw the original pilot to completely forget about it and lose interest by the time the show released.

The Man in the High Castle” takes place in an alternate reality where the Axis powers have won World War II. The year is now 1962 and the Japanese Empire controls all of America West of the Rocky Mountains while the ‘Great Nazi Reich’ controls everything to the east. The Rockies themselves become a neutral zone between the two regimes. A young woman (Alexa Davalos) comes into possession of a mysterious news reel which shows our reality in which the Allies win the war. Supposedly created by someone known as The Man in the High Castle, the film reel becomes a target by both German and Japanese regimes who see it as a threat and they are willing to kill anyone to obtain it. It’s a great concept and the show is tense and very well-produced. It definitely deserves a wide audience.

This has happened before in the history of television. Networks used to produce series based on popular mini-series such as “V”. Even the remake of “Battlestar Galactica” began as a mini-series, and based on its success it still took a year before the series was released. However, this is Amazon’s entire strategy. Let’s call it the ‘spaghetti approach’. You throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks. Like the networks of old, Amazon orders up a bunch of pilots, but instead of trusting their own execs to choose the best ones and make series out of them, they put the viewers to work. They release all of the pilots on Amazon Prime Video and based on the number of views and ratings, determines which pilots should be produced. Viewers must then wait for the series to be released and in the case of “The Man in the High Castle”, that meant a ten month wait.

This sounds like a great idea in theory. So far, I’ve found three downsides to it… 1. Obviously, the long wait. I like the “Castle” pilot but by the time the series came out, I had lost interest. For the purposes of this article, I had to watch the pilot again to remind me what had transpired on the show so I wouldn’t feel lost going into the rest of the series. 2. Many pilots are junk. You wade through some dogs just to get to something good. It could turn people off from the process. 3. Even the good pilots don’t always make it. You could watch something, get you hopes up and then it ultimately never happens.

To illustrate point #3, a new pilot was just released for a potential series called “Edge” which is a violent, gory, western/thriller based off a popular series of books. It was directed by action genre stalwart Shane Black and written by the cult horror writer/director Fred Dekker. The pilot received some good reviews and got a lot of genre fans excited about the possibility of this pilot becoming a series… but what if it doesn’t? Did they waste their expectations on a losing horse? Possibly, since I personally didn’t think the pilot for “Edge” was that impressive (but it’s not really up to me, alone).

As far as I’m concerned, Netflix is doing it 100% correctly. At first, some people/critics scoffed at idea of releasing an entire season of a series online, all at once, but it turned out to be a huge success, thus ushering in a new era of ‘binge watching’. Netflix is also betting on winning horses by focusing on developing high-caliber shows out of the most interesting properties (like dark superhero shows based off of Marvel Comics characters) and roping in the best talent for the job. In essence, it doesn’t seem to be wasting its time or resources and it’s not testing the patience of audiences like Amazon is.

Time will tell if this strategy benefits Amazon the way they expect, and it shouldn’t detract anyone curious about their new pilots and shows. Despite this, I think Amazon should have had some faith in “The Man in the High Castle” and released the season in such a way that the pilot wasn’t so far out of sight and mind.

The Man in the High Castle” episodes 1 & 2 rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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