Big shows that can "move the needle" are in. Zelda Fitzgerald is out.
The head of Amazon’s in-house studio, Roy Price, says Bezos and other senior Amazon management team members have made it clear that they want more ambitious, attention-grabbing “event”’ television like AMC’s Preacher, Starz’ American Gods, and, most of all, HBO’s Game of Thrones. In an interview with Variety, Price said that Amazon Studios will refocus on “big shows that can make the biggest difference around the world,” and specifically cited Game of Thrones as a model.
The broader strategic goal is to create content that encourages subscriptions to Amazon Prime, perhaps the most important element of Amazon’s e-commerce growth strategy. Prime subscriptions include many other perks along with Prime Video access, most importantly free shipping on Amazon orders. That has led Prime members to spend nearly twice as much on Amazon as non-members.
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And according to Price, Bezos and other managers have reviewed viewership data and concluded that “it takes big shows to move the needle.”
But what exactly makes a “big show”? Coinciding with Price’s interview, Amazon Studios made two illustrative moves. The sacrificial lamb for the pivot is the Christina Ricci-led period drama Z: The Beginning of Everything, whose second season was canceled Thursday. The show, which focused on the story of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda, was nichey and literary, and Ricci is not a top-tier star. The cancellation reversed a previous announcement that the show would be renewed, suggesting to some that Amazon’s top leadership overrode a decision at Amazon Studios.
Amazon last week also ordered two new shows clearly reaching for broader appeal. Most notably, renowned director Wong Kar-wai will direct a series about Chinese organized crime in 19th-century San Francisco, with the potential for exactly the kind of sprawling plot and cast that makes Game of Thrones such water-cooler fodder. The other show is an unnamed comedy from Saturday Night Live vets Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph, who have shown they can move the needle with projects like Portlandia and Bridesmaids.
According to insiders speaking to Variety, the overhaul could include other cancellations, and signals upper management’s dissatisfaction with recent results from Amazon Studios, which has lacked a truly moment-defining series since 2014’s Transparent. Even Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, which seemed poised to tap into rising political angst, was easily eclipsed in popular buzz by competitor Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Price also told Variety that other high-profile deals fleshing out the new focus will be announced in coming weeks.