In 2010, online retailer Amazon launched its own production company, Amazon Studios, and began making plans to produce original shows and movies, inviting creatives from all over the world to submit ideas for consideration.
Amazon's business model invites visitors to the website to vote on which pitches and premises they'd like to see made - the basic idea being that people state their interest in the shows or movies in advance, not only giving the company an idea of how successful each new idea will be, but also piquing interest in the projects before they even begin production.
It's too early to say whether this business model will be a success or a disaster, but according to Variety there have been more than 700 test movies, 14,000 movie scripts and 2,700 series pilot scripts submitted since the launch of the company. 14 pilots have already been produced and there are 20 other projects currently in development.
If you're a resident of the UK or the USA, you can now watch all 14 pilots for free and vote for show you'd most like to see get commissioned for a full series. Simon Morris, who is the chief marketing officer for Lovefilm, the UK distributor of the shows, explained the idea behind the votes.
“It was the logical next step in a consumer-focused company. Amazon’s DNA is data and using data to drive the service. Amazon’s goal is to be the world’s most consumer-centric company.”
The voting is broken down into two categories - kids pilots and comedy pilots - with six options in the first and eight in the second to choose from in each. In the 'Kids' category are sci-fi shows Annebots and Creative Galaxy, Oz-set fantasy Positively Ozitively, mystery-solving with Sara Solves it, and talking animal shows Teeny Tiny Dogs and Tumbleaf. For now we'll leave the 5-10s to vote on that category, and take a closer look at the comedy pilots available.
Zombieland - A spin-off of the popular 2009 horror-comedy of the same name that has writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick back onboard to write the script, engendered a lot of hype that it doesn't quite live up to. The writing sways between genuinely funny moments and conspicuously clunky exposition, and though the cast is quite strong, there's a definite sense that this show needed new characters instead of rehashed versions of Columbus, Wichita, Tallahassee and Little Rock. Tyler Ross and Kirk Ward in particular come across like they're trying and failing to impersonate Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson. Perhaps with a few more episodes they'd be able to find their own interpretations of the characters, but the pilot alone isn't enough to recommend this show.
Supanatural - A 2D animated show in the vein of Archer, about two "outspoken divas" (played by Lily Sparks and Jameeliah Garrett) who work in a security mall when they're not hunting down ancient artefacts and trying to save the world from dark supernatural forces. The pilot has its moments, but the comedy is pretty one-note and soon becomes a little repetitive - try keeping count of how many times you hear "girl" or "mm-hmm" within the first five minutes alone.
Dark Minions - Stop-motion/2D animation sci-fi featuring the voices of John Ross Bowie and Kevin Sussman. Onboard a spaceship belonging to the evil Galactic Conglomerate that has enslaved humanity, two slackers try to keep their heads down and make a living, until they are unwillingly recruited by a band of rebels. The stop-motion components of this pilot are very smoothly animated, making the weird staggered nature of the 2D sections look distractingly unpolished and amateur by comparison.
Onion News Empire - Created by satirical news site The Onion's Will Graham and Dan Mirk, this comedy series set behind the scenes of the news network's operations stars William Sadler as an over-worked director tasked with handling an egomaniacal anchor, played by Jeffrey Tambor. Christopher Masterson (Malcolm in the Middle) plays the wide-eyed new recruit to the network, and the whole thing feels like a somewhat surreal analog of British political comedy The Thick of It. The comedy is sharp, quick-witted and hilarious - Onion News Empire is almost certainly going to be one of the favorites in the polls.
Those Who Can't - A school-based sitcom about a group of teachers, the central joke being that they're actually far less mature than the students they're supposed to be in charge of. The humor is largely shock-based and as juvenile as the setting, but lead actors Andrew Orvedahl, Adam Cayton-Holland and Ben Roy manage to sell it and the premise definitely has potential for a full series.
Betas - For those who aren't already getting enough a geek comedy fix through The Big Bang Theory, Betas is a sitcom produced and helmed by Heathers director Michael Lehmann. A group of Silicon Valley programmers, presumably inspired by the success of Mark Zuckerberg, invent an app and pursue an investor who they hope will help elevate them from bottom-rung lackeys to kings of the industry. Somewhat predictably, the show's characters are largely based on stereotype (a mix of the socially awkward, sex-obsessed and fashion-disadvantaged), but the writers seem to be fully embedded in the world of technology that they're writing about, meaning that the story and pilot come across as nicely fleshed0out. Features a cameo by Moby.
Alpha House - Beyond Onion News Empire, there's even more political humor to be found among the candidates. The pilot for Alpha House features Bill Murray and Stephen Colbert alongside its central cast of John Goodman, Matt Malloy, Clark Johnson and Mark Consuelos, who play four Republican senators all sharing a townhouse in Washington, hence the frat-themed title. Topical enough that it's likely to tread on a lot of toes (Matt Malloy's character is seen receiving a "Say No to Sodomy" award from a group called The Council for Normal Marriage), Alpha House is another of the very high-caliber pilots on the list.
Browsers - This musical comedy about four new interns starting work at a news website is heavily hampered by the fact that none of the lead actors is a particularly strong singer. As with Glee, the show is split between spoken dialogue and music, but unlike Glee the songs are original rather than karaoke numbers. It's an interesting experiment, but unlikely to earn enough votes for a series commission.
Vote For Yourself
Of the pilots up for the vote, Zombieland and Onion News Empire have an undeniable advantage due to their existing fanbase, while Alpha House has the benefit of a star cast - but will it be enough to push these series to pilot? Take a look at the newest comedy on offer, and let us know which show you'd like to see more of.
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