Amazon just dragged the traditional television pilot season into the age of digital crowd-sourcing.
Early yesterday, Amazon made 14 original TV show pilots available to one and all for free streaming, either through Amazon.com or any device containing the Amazon Instant Video app. Eight of the pilots are categorized as comedy shows and six are kid’s shows. Amazon first announced their intention to produce original content for their Amazon Instant Prime Video catalog in May of last year, and opened the process up to story pitches from absolutely anyone, a policy which yielded 2,000 entries. From this process emerged 14 different pilots, the majority of which come from veterans of the television industry.
Here’s the kicker: Amazon is asking us to watch the shows and provide feedback in the form of ratings, comments, and survey completion. Our feedback will help determine which shows are ordered to a full-season. So, basically they are test screening their pilots, which is not unique. However, no TV pilot test screening process has ever been this global, transparent, and interactive. Amazon has essentially followed Netflix’s lead in producing original content (e.g., House of Cards, Arrested Development) and added an American Idol-esque voting element to the development process.
So, are you ready to play TV show exec fantasy camp? Get to watching, rating, and talking about the following shows (each show title is linked to its page on Amazon, and each show synopsis comes straight from Amazon.com):
Written by Academy Award nominee and Pulitzer-Prize winner Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury, Tanner ’88) and features John Goodman (Roseanne, Argo, Treme), Clark Johnson (The Wire), Matt Malloy (Six Feet Under, Law & Order), and Mark Consuelos (American Horror Story: Asylum, Guys with Kids). Alpha House follows four senators who live together in a rented house in Washington DC.
Set in the land of Silicon Valley start-ups, Betas, written by Evan Endicott and Josh Stoddard, follows four friends as they attempt to strike it rich with a new mobile social networking app. Michael Lehmann (True Blood, Dexter) directed and produced the pilot along with Emmy Award winners Alan Freedland and Alan Cohen (King of the Hill), and Academy Award nominee Michael London (Sideways).
Written by 12-time Emmy-winning comedy writer David Javerbaum (The Daily Show) and directed by Don Scardino (30 Rock), Browsers is a musical comedy set in contemporary Manhattan that follows four young people as they start their first jobs at a news website (that’s basically a stand-in for The Huffington Post) and features actress Bebe Neuwirth (who is basically playing Arianna Huffington).
Written by Big Bang Theory co-stars Kevin Sussman and John Ross Bowie, Dark Minions is an animated workplace series about two slackers just trying to make a paycheck, working on an intergalactic warship
The Onion News Empire
A smart, fast-paced scripted comedy set behind the scenes of The Onion News Network that shows just how far journalists will go to stay at the top of their game. Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), Chris Masterson (Malcolm in the Middle), William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption), Cheyenne Jackson (30 Rock) and Aja Naomi King (Damsels in Distress) star in the pilot.
Supanatural is an animated comedy series about two outspoken divas who are humanity’s last line of defense against the supernatural, when they’re not working at the mall. The series, written by Lily Sparks, Price Peterson and Ryan Sandoval, is produced by Underground, Jason Micallef (Butter) and Kristen Schaal (The Daily Show).
Those Who Can’t
Written by Andrew Orvedahl, Adam Cayton-Holland and Benjamin Roy (Grawlix), who were discovered through Amazon Studios online open door process, Those Who Can’t is a comedy about three juvenile, misfit teachers who are just as immature, if not more so, than the students they teach.
Zombieland is based on the hit Columbia Pictures movie of the same name, and finds four survivors outwitting zombies and searching for a place to call home. The Zombieland pilot comes from the film’s original creative team, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Joe Schmo Show), and producer Gavin Polone (Gilmore Girls, Curb Your Enthusiasm).
Kid’s Show Pilots
Revolves around Anne, a young scientist, who creates three robot helpers to assist her scientific experiments in the back of her dad’s junkyard. This science-based series from creator J.J. Johnson (Dino Dan, This is Emily Yeung) aims to introduce kids to science and technology in a fun, new way.
An animated interactive art adventure series designed to inspire kids’ creative thinking through crafts, story, music and dance. The series was created by Angela Santomero, creator of Super Why!, the Emmy-nominated literacy series, Blue’s Clues and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
Dot, Dorothy’s daughter, goes off to Oz everyday with the children of the beloved characters from Frank Baum’s classic book, The Wizard of Oz. In each episode, the yellow brick road leads Dot to a new magical location where she solves problems alongside her Oz friends.
Sarah Solves It
Created by Emmy Award winner Carol Greenwald (Curious George, Arthur) and multiple Emmy Award nominee Angela Santomero (Super Why!, Blue’s Clues), Sarah Solves It asks viewers to follow brother and sister duo Sara and Sam on relatable mysteries that spring from the questions young children encounter in their daily lives. Each mystery is an interactive, math-based puzzle.
Teeny Tiny Dogs
Teeny Tiny Dogs follows Dinky, Butterfly, Butch and Polly as they help one another navigate the big world, despite their teeny, tiny, small size. This series promotes happiness through friendship, learning, growing and developing a strong sense of self as seen through the eyes of canine friends.
Created by Drew Hodges and Bix Pix Entertainment, an award-winning stop motion studio. The series, aimed at preschoolers, is set in a whimsical land where a small blue fox named Fig plays each day and discovers adventure, friendship and love around every bend in the path. Children will be enriched by narratives that promote play through exploration and scientific thinking.
From the pilots we’ve watched so far, The Onion News Empire appears light years ahead of the others. It would have easily been the best new sitcom had it premiered on network television this past season. Jeffrey Tambor is hilarious as a George Bluth-style character, and the show’s knowing mockery of the Sorkinisms of HBO’s The Newsroom is a welcome delight.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.