Actress Bebe Neuwirth stars as Julianna in the new live-action comedy pilot… (Amazon )
Amazon is turning to its consumers to help decide which of the new television shows premiering Friday to add to its programming lineup, democratizing a process that was once reserved for a rarefied group of network executives.
The online retailer will post 14 TV pilots -- including a musical office comedy set in Manhattan, a live-action comedy about four U.S. senators who live together in Washington, D.C., and a show based on the cult film "Zombieland" -- ask viewers to critique them.
The feedback will help inform which pilots are developed into a full series.
"We're looking for distinctive shows that people get really attached to and love," said Amazon Studios director Roy Price. "In the digital, on-demand world, you really have to have that passionate fan base, because there are no hammock shows, there's no 8:30 show, [to bring viewers]. It's important to reach out to customers on a large scale and see what they're interested in."
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Price describes Amazon Studios' process as a hybrid, that draws from elements of old and new media. It used the service's rental and viewing history to identify the shows that resonate with its customers, and which new ones might hold the greatest appeal.
The popularity of scripted dramas such as PBS' period drama "Downton Abbey" and HBO's "Sex and the City" suggested some viewers are attracted to shows with depth, where the characters confront important life choices, Price said.
Viewership of FX's animated sitcom "Archer" and the stop-motion animation Cartoon Network series "Robot Chicken" hint at a clump of interest around another kind of program, Price said. Meanwhile, frequently watched children's programs, including Nickelodeon's "Dora the Explorer" and "Blue's Clues," suggest another opportunity.
"You end up with a few areas you can look for ideas that seem to be compatible with those concepts," Price said.
Amazon received some 4,000 scripts through its website, and others through the more traditional avenue of Hollywood agents. It used a typical vetting process to narrow its choices, but also posted plot synopses to get customer feedback (a vetting process it will evaluate later, to see whether it accurately predicted hits).
Because Amazon wasn't looking to make its mark with a network-defining show (as rival Netflix did with its high profile original series, "House of Cards," starring actor Kevin Spacey), it also could afford to take risks, Price said.
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"If you're betting on one show, it's got to be right down the middle of the fairway," Price said. "But if you've got 14 you can allow people to try new things."
Exhibit A in the not-your-usual-TV-sitcom offerings is "Browsers," a musical comedy about four young professionals as they start their first jobs at a news website, Gush, run by the imposing Julianna played by Bebe Neuwirth. The project is the brainchild of 12-time Emmy-winning comedy writer David Javerbaum, of "The Daily Show."
Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Gary Trudeau created "Alpha House," a comedy that follows the lives of a group of senators who live together in a rented house in Washington, D.C., starring John Goodman. "Zombieland" is based on the Columbia Pictures movie of the same name, follows four survivors as they try to outwit the undead.
Amazon's customers will have a voice in which of these pilots are developed as a series.
"We have a lot of customers coming every day who love movies and TV in particular," Price said. "Obviously, they like to share their thoughts and opinions on shows, so it just seemed natural for us to go to them with the best TV ideas we can find."
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