Sunday, April 29, 2018
AMAZON PRIME'S JOURNEY FROM "THE JUNGLE" TO THE MOUNTAINS OF MORDOR or YOU BETTER HOPE THERE'S GOLD AT THE END OF THIS RIVER, 'CAUSE CANCELING ALL THESE GOOD SHOWS IS P***ING ME OFF!
Oh-kay, it's time to talk about Amazon. I know, I know, most of our streaming attention has been paid to Netflix lately, and it's not undeserved to be honest, but-eh,- (sigh) well, basically at least brand-wise, I've always been more of an Amazon guy, at least until recently. One of Netflix's many problems, and yeah, they've got more than they let on, but the one I'm talking about regarding their original programming is that they're more into quantity than they are quality. In of itself, that's not an inherent problem, but it doesn't lead to much of an identity. Treating Netflix liek a TV channel for a second, what exactly is the quintessential Netflix show? What show or collection of series could you put together and say that these shows are Netflix? I can pinpoint a few shows and sorta say they belong together and make sense, you know, eh, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt", "GLOW", "Orange is the New Black", maybe at a ten o'clock slot, "House of Cards", that would make sense on a normal TV lineup, but where does "13 Reasons Why" fit in or "Hemlock Grove" or "Santa Clarita Diet" or their stand-up specials or "Dear White People" or "BoJack Horseman" or "Fuller House" or the Marvel shows or the two seasons of "Richie Rich"-, wait, what?! Am I reading this Wikipedia right, "Richie Rich", live-action sitcom? In the 2010's they brought back "Richie Rich"? What the hell? (Sigh) I'm gonna regret this...- (Clicks)
65 seconds in, there's a Kevin Arnold wannabe, a Paul Pfieffer dobbleganger and Winnie Cooper's snooty evil twin, talking to Richie Rich's supermodel maid robot. I did not make any of that up. (Who the hell thought "Richie Rich" would make sense for today kids...- Has that franchise ever actually worked? [Ugh]) Okay that's enough of, whatever that was. Anyway, you see my point? There's a lot of content, but there's no identity. Meanwhile, Amazon shows they all kinda fit together. Part of that is that some shows had the same creators and they also gathered around other similar creators and shows and whatnot, and frankly, I liked most of their shows. Ever since "Girls" went off the air, one of my go-to responses to what the best show on TV is has been "Mozart of the Jungle", which they just recently canceled, and they also canceled "One Mississippi", "I Love Dick" and several others and that's not even counting "Transparent", which I and most others would've probably labeled at Amazon's signature show, and it's current status as being, up-in-the-air at best, for several reasons that we will get to, 'cause unfortunately it is a bit relevant....- and I'm not even saying I liked all these shows, some of the popular ones like "Goliath" and "Sneaky Pete", I haven't really given a fair shake to yet, but-eh, I can either take or leave "Bosch" and frankly I thought "Good Girls Revolt" just sucked. I mean, it's a good idea, I liked that Nora Ephron's a main character and it's based on true events, but it's basically a boring remake of "Mad Men" except everyone's either Peggy, Joan or Roger. (While I'm at it, I can take-or-leave "Catastrophe" and "Fleabag" too.) But that said, I understood how those shows were trying to fit into this brand that I thought of as Amazon Prime. Or "Prime Video" as it's started labeling itself on my Roku. Anyway, yeah, these all made sense, I can see this mapped out on a network's schedule and the network would make sense. It wouldn't all fit naturally, but you can see the common themes and motifs. Adult, sophisticated, progressive shows, slice-of-life comedies and comedy-dramas, a slight wit to them. historical costume dramas mixed in with hard-boiled throwbacks...- even if I don't like all the shows, and I didn't, I can identify and understand the brand.
This even crossed over into their film productions, which, honestly Hollywood's been a little more forgiving of because they have followed the more common Hollywood theatrical release structure, and I hate to say it, but Spielberg's right, Netflix shouldn't be releasing everything on streaming with only the half-ass minimal attempt at hitting the Oscar qualifier, blah, blah, blah, Amazon knows better how to present a film as a film and get both box office numbers, plus money from providing streaming..... blah, blah, blah, blah, blah....
But, we're talking about the TV side. And, in recent months, despite a loyal audience and some critical acclaim, they've basically slowly started abandoning this brand identity, they've canceled many of their shows, including a lot of major ones like "Z" that we're pretty high-profile and expensive production in of itself and now, they're putting all their on their money into...- (Sigh) "Lord of the Rings". Yes, they've committed, by some estimates a billion dollars, and five guaranteed seasons of a TV adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" that may or may not exist within or parallel or whatever to the Peter Jackson films.
Okay, yes, most of this, I hate because, well, I despise "Lord of the Rings" in every form and consider Tolkien the antichrist of literature. Okay, that's a little much, he's not the antichrist of literature, but I don't like the books, I hated the movie-, well, I liked the last "The Hobbit" film, but taking that aside, I actually do understand this move. I think it's a risky move, but it's calculated. They've basically said that they want to recreate the success of HBO's "Game of Thrones" so they seeked out a popular vehicle and have devoted much of their funding towards it; this is basically television's equivalent to a tent pole project, and you know, obvious choice is obvious, if you're gonna do it, why not do it with the biggest fantasy franchise in two mediums their is. Business-wise, I get it, and basically, HBO is being kept afloat by "Game of Thrones" and maybe by "Westworld" now, I'd have to double-check the ratings on that to be sure, but that's what they're trying anyway. The funny thing is that I don't think would be too outside their current brand if they didn't start abandoning it. I mean, costume dramas and period pieces were already prevalent on Amazon, even the historical fiction "The Man in the High Castle", and like HBO, they had history pieces like "Rome" for instance that prepared for this. And HBO, for another comparison was the starting point with shows like "Six Feet Under" for people like "Transparent" and "I Love Dick" creator Jill Soloway that evolved to things like "Big Love" and "True Blood", that peppered the HBO landscape for awhile; it's actually really close to following the HBO model and while HBO, I don't think was too profitable during those shows' run, not as profitable as "Game of Thrones" anyway, I don't think they pushed those shows out so much as they let them run their course.
This is why the Amazon thing is a bit weird; this was a very concise decision by them, in fact they're not even really hiding it, they've basically admitted that they want the next "Game of Thrones" and this is the one that they're saying it is. Well..., we do know the reason for this, see the head of Amazon Studios during the reign of most/all of these shows basically was Roy Price and-eh, he got into some trouble.
It wasn't as high-profile as the Weinsteins or some of the other names out there, but-eh, yeah, Amazon didn't look too good in this, anybody, and on top of that, the fact that he also signed Woody Allen to a deal, signed off on Louis C.K., who was a producer on Tig Notaro's "One Mississippi", and also the Jeffrey Tambor thing which...- (Sigh) look I'll be straight, I guess that one surprised some people; it didn't surprise me as much. I actually had heard stories and rumors about him for years, I'm actually somewhat surprised he was still getting so much lead TV work, um,- I thought that even when "Arrested Development" was on to be honest, so-eh..., yeah. Well, that sad note, um...- anyway, this was- well, I can't say for certain, but his shows have been not-so-gradually getting pushed aside or canceled out right and two weeks after this was first word that Amazon was doing a "LOTR" adaptation.
I hate to defend a sexual predator and say it's a shame that this is happening, but, for me, I liked the brand identity Amazon had built up under him and I don't hate outright that they've made this dramatic switch, but I am wondering about...- well,- it's not like he created any of these shows, he just was the head man-in-charge when he approved them for his air. I mean, this isn't like everything Cosby ever did being tainted now 'cause he was the centerpiece of his image and the series he did,- I'm not saying they shouldn't do LOTR or that they shouldn't be fading these shows out, but when you're rebranding a network there is such a thing as tonal whiplash.
I can think of successful examples and some not-so-successful; I mean, I remember when Bravo was the artsy cable network and now the only remnant of that that remains is "Inside the Actors Studio" but believe it or not, they implementation of that change was very subtle at the time. Starting from when NBC bought the network and skirted some of the influence there like airing reruns of "The West Wing" and the broadcast rights to "Six Feet Under" and even some of the Olympics, and then finding an artistic reality show to insert with "Project Runway" in their as a bridge between them, and eventually it evolved to the pro-gay pro-reality trash channel we know and love today. (Shrugs) But look at, what is it now Paramount Television. That's been The Nashville NEtwork, then they added wrestling and roller derby, so they became The National Network, they at some point SpikeTV which never made any damn sense, and...- you don't want look into- what is it now, Freeform's history? And those are full brand shifts and name changes, we're not even talking something that extreme, but you know, when suddenly Must See TV was dominated by "The Apprentice' and "The Biggest Loser", people like me who were loyal to the NBC brand and had some expectation of quality from it, they definitely felt like something was pulled from under their feet. (There's a lot of reasons NBC'S gone out of their way to shift away from that in recent years, and basically made the network "The Voice" and mostly decent but underwatched dramas and sitcoms again, but that's an underrated one; trust me, when I started switching to CBS on Thursday Nights, I knew they were soon to be dead and thankfully Jeff Zucker was soon to be excommunicate to CNN)
So, even with a project that, even at a billion dollar budget, doesn't seem like it's doomed to fail, this is a gamble, and this is a potentially alienating shift for the audience that Amazon has built up. But even more than that possibility, the thing that makes this particular network brand shift curious to me, is that, we haven't seen with this with a major streaming service before, at least not to my knowledge. If Netflix's quantity over quality formula has one advantage it is that their lack of a signifying brand actually helps them evolve more easily.
That said, and I think this "LOTR" gamble will succeed, but what if I'm wrong and it doesn't, and some people are predicting that already btw, this opinion piece came out a couple weeks ago:
I mean, if this fails for a broadcast network, that's one thing, but they have enough to overcome a failure like this, Amazon is a newer channel on a alternate service that, let's face it, has a lot of dead channels on it. Hey, I have a Roku, I know, every month I go through the 900 or so channels I've added and there's usually a half a dozen or so that I check to see if they actually still work, and they often don't work after too long. I'm not saying that's the fate of Amazon, but no streaming service has so devoted themselves so much on the success to a single project, in fact few networks of any kind have done such a thing, period. This isn't just, you know, NBC building that giant set for "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip", this is an entire rebranding of a network devoted to this programs' success, and it hasn't even aired yet. It's hard to remember now, but HBO did not plan for "Game of Thrones" to have the position they have for their network, to them, it was another in a long line of high-quality drama series. Hell, it's first season, it wasn't even the favorite to win the Drama Series Emmy in it's first year, among HBO shows. (Trust me, "Boardwalk Empire" had a far better chance of wining in 2011 than "Game of Thrones" did, and HBO had much more invested into that series' success at that time, too.)
So while Netflix is trying to force the public to redefine what a movie's been for 100 or so years, Amazon Prime, is taking a big risk in rebranding it's TV channel, something that definitely hasn't been done on this high a scale for a streaming service, and arguably for a TV network, period. I mean, even AMC before "Mad Men" had experimented with it's own programming before with "Remember WENN" years earlier, and at the moment, Amazon Prime, they don't seem to have a backup plan. It's basically "In Tolkien They Trust" for them, and they're gonna live or die by that. I can't say for certain that they wouldn't be doing this had Roy Price not besmirched their reputation and they've had to systematically alleviate all the shows they can that he had a hand in, ASAP, but I'm weary that this could be an unnecessary risk for them.
And for me, I'm just sad right now that "Mozart of the Jungle" is the latest in a long line of great canceled shows, many of which didn't get the audience or reputation they deserved. (Seriously, how did the Emmys not fall in love with "Mozart..." at least? It's funny, it's pretentious but in a sophisticated-and-clever "Frasier" way,, it's a show about a bunch of artists and all the crazy shit they do, it's centered around classical music, it had major stars everyone loves...- Man, did everybody miss out on this one, and it still easily had a couple years left. [Shrugs]) Well, I guess I'm cheering for "LOTR"'s success anyway. I don't know if I'll like it, and with my tolerance record with Tolkien, I probably won't, but, hopefully, it's success will bring in some other creative and innovative new shows that I will like and the money will roll in for them and go downstream to everyone else. (Shrugs) I gotta come at this optimistically, it's the best I can reasonably hope for, and I'm sure they're seeking out other content. Hell, they just picked up the Angry Video Game Nerd, so maybe there's more to their network's rebranding than they're sharing, oh, and I can't forget that they have "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel", that show might be the best on all of television right now actually; if you haven't seen that yet, catch up now, who knows, they might cancel it the first chance they get these days...-. (Shrugs) What?
Anyway, a few scatterings of diversification aside, they've got their eye on a marketshare and they're aiming square at it. If this was a game of pool, this is that shot on the eight ball where you hit it perfectly at the right you can cut it into the pocket and win the game, but if you hit it with a smidge more power than you need to hit it in, you'll end up scratching and losing the game entirely.It'll be interesting to watch either way.