Amazon Rising: Ridley Scott, Carlton Cuse Among 2015 Pilot Class

Launch of Pilot Season Shows Lengths Company Is Willing to Go To

Published on .

Reprints Reprints

Early in the pilot episode of Amazon Prime's "Point of Honor," a Confederate officer gets his arm blown off in a graphic battle scene that evokes Omaha Beach in "Saving Private Ryan."

In "The Man in the High Castle," another of the 13 pilots released Thursday by Amazon.com's $99-a-year shipping-cum-video service, a young man emerges from a theater to a 1962 Times Square imagined by Philip K. Dick, in which the Nazi swastika dominates, and German soldiers patrol the streets of New York City.

The shows, released in the wake of Amazon's victories at the Golden Globes and a new deal with Woody Allen, affirm the online retailer's growing stature in Hollywood. With this batch, Amazon is showing off the high-level talent it's attracted. "Blade Runner" director Ridley Scott executive produced "The Man in the High Castle," based on Mr. Dick's alternative history of the world. "Lost" executive producer Carlton Cuse is behind "Point of Honor."

"You see Woody Allen associated with Amazon and suddenly anybody who is anybody has no shame in working with them," James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research, said in an interview. "Moving forward into 2015, Amazon has the recipe for success."

Like Netflix before it, Amazon is offering the creative freedom and financial resources required to lure the likes of Mr. Allen, Mr. Cuse and Mr. Scott. The new pilots include projects from the writers of hit shows such as "Lie to Me" and "The X-Files," as well as a series made with The New Yorker.

Amazon befuddled Hollywood at first, releasing its pilots, which are typically a private test of a potential show, to the public. The company trumpeted this as the attribute that made its service different, another sign of its belief in the power of using data to attract consumers. Its first few shows failed to garner a large following or much critical acclaim.

Yet Hollywood warmed up after Amazon demonstrated the willingness to fund unconventional, high-quality programming. "Transparent," about a transgender father and his family, won the Golden Globe for best TV musical or comedy series, while its star Jeffrey Tambor won the award for best actor in a TV musical or comedy series. "Mozart in the Jungle," Amazon's latest release, has also drawn praise from critics.

None of the new pilots reach the level of "Transparent" or "Mozart," the New York Times' Mike Hale wrote in a recent review. However, the overall quality of the new pilots is the highest yet for the service.

"None of these shows would embarrass a broadcast or cable executive or advertising buyer," Mr. Hale wrote. "That hasn't been true in the past."

The instant video service remains an add-on to Amazon's Prime service, which offers customers free two-day shipping. Hit shows are one way for Amazon to entice more subscribers, and to keep them paying for Prime when they aren't shopping.

"Transparent" is Amazon's first hit, though agents and analysts believe its success is more critical than commercial. (The company doesn't release viewer numbers.) Now Amazon has a chance to build on that.

Mr. Allen, 79, will write and direct an untitled half-hour series that has been ordered for one full season,Amazon said this week.

"Do you absolutely need another hit and critical success? You probably need at least one," Mr. McQuivey said. "You don't want people to be dancing on your grave when all of your pilots flop. But you don't need more than one."

--Bloomberg News

Most Popular