Is Amazon risking a backlash over its Woody Allen series deal?
Celebrated director Woody Allen was joking Tuesday when he suggested that Amazon would rue the day it signed a deal with him to create a streaming television series.
“I don’t know how I got into this,” the director said in a statement. “I have no ideas and I’m not sure where to begin. My guess is that [Amazon Studios vice president] Roy Price will regret this.”
That’s the kind of self-deprecating humor that’s a hallmark of Allen’s work, including classic films Annie Hall and Manhattan. But the comment may end up as reality if Amazon customers take issue with Allen, a polarizing figure who has faced allegations of child abuse along with criticism over his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, the daughter of ex-wife Mia Farrow.
Precious few details were released about Allen’s deal with Amazon. As of yet, there is no title or plot. Amazon revealed only that the 79-year old director’s first-ever television series will eventually stream exclusively on Prime Instant Video in the U.S., the U.K., and Germany. Casting and other timing of the show’s release will be announced at a later date.
But, now that Amazon (AMZN) has enlisted Allen to write and direct the series, there exists the very real possibility that the company will come to regret a decision that comes less than a year after accusations resurfaced that Allen sexually abused adopted daughter Dylan Farrow when she was a child. Though the allegations are more than two decades old, Farrow’s open letter in The New York Times last year put the issue firmly back in the spotlight.
For his part, Allen fiercely denied the child abuse allegations, but the controversy hung over last year’s Academy Awards, where Allen’s film Blue Jasmine was up for several awards. The furor seems to have died down a bit in recent months, though, and the backlash was decidedly more muted around last summer’s release of the far less critically acclaimed Magic in the Moonlight.
So far, Amazon has seen some negative reactions as a result of the Allen TV deal. A writer for The Daily Beast called the deal “despicable,” while others took to Twitter to decry the deal:
In a statement Tuesday, Amazon’s Price called Allen “a visionary creator,” adding that the company “couldn’t be more excited to premiere [Allen’s] first TV series exclusively on Prime Instant Video next year.” Amazon is looking to expand its online streaming content after some success with shows such as Transparent, which won the company its first-ever Golden Globe awards over the weekend. While that show has proven popular with critics, Amazon’s viewership numbers still trail behind rival Netflix (NFLX) by a wide margin. Amazon likely considers adding a star like Allen as a step toward narrowing that gap.
Netflix, for its part, recently found itself in a difficult situation when the online streaming service pulled a planned Bill Cosby stand-up special after several women publicly accused the comedian of drugging and sexually assaulting over the past few decades. Netflix called off the special amid a public outcry that also forced NBC to cancel an upcoming Cosby television series. Meanwhile, under public pressure, theaters across the country canceled the comedian’s stand-up dates.
Similar to Allen’s case, some of the accusations against Cosby had been reported in the past, but only gathered steam and sparked widespread public outcry more recently. Of course, one major difference between the two unrelated cases is that the Netflix deal with Cosby was already in place when the furor erupted over his alleged misdeeds, whereas Amazon’s agreement with Allen comes after the backlash seems to have dissipated somewhat.
And, despite some negative reactions online, any potential publicity hit Amazon faces over the deal has yet to affect the company’s share price. Bolstered by a Citigroup buy rating, Amazon’s stock was up over 1% Tuesday.
Amazon did not immediately respond to Fortune‘s request for comment.