Amazon to pilot TV comedies and children's shows online

By Helen Bushby
BBC entertainment and arts reporter

image captionThe pilot shows include Alpha House, which stars John Goodman

Fourteen pilot shows - including Alpha House and Zombieland - are to be put to the public vote on Lovefilm and

Viewers can submit feedback influencing which shows get made into full series.

The 14 shows are made by independent production companies and produced by Amazon Studios, the film and series production arm of Amazon.

"This is the first time Amazon Studios has done this," said Simon Morris, Lovefilm's chief marketing officer.

Eight adult comedies and six children's animation series will be put to the public vote.

The shows will be aired on Amazon's pay subscription services - Amazon Prime in the US, and Lovefilm in the UK - but Morris told the BBC they would be available to everyone and not just subscribers.

The adult pilot shows include Alpha House, about four senators who live together in a rented house in Washington DC and stars John Goodman, who was recently in Oscar-winning film Argo.

"Bill Murray has got a cameo in Alpha House, looking a bit older, a little bit more bedraggled, but definitely Bill Murray," Mr Morris added.

Onion News Empire is set behind the scenes of the Onion News Network, a satirical daily news service, and "shows just how far journalists will go to stay at the top of their game", according to Amazon Studios.

It stars Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor as the "egomaniacal lead anchor".

Musical comedy Browsers stars Cheers and Frasier actress Bebe Neuwirth as the "terrifying" boss of a news website in Manhattan.

Other pilot shows include Zombieland - based on the film of the same name - featuring four survivors attempting to outwit zombies, while animated comedy Dark Minions, written by Big Bang Theory's Kevin Sussman and John Ross Bowie, is about two "slackers" working on an intergalactic warship.

The children's shows include animations Sara Solves It, where Sara and Sam solve maths-based mysteries, and Creative Galaxy, an interactive art adventure series.

image captionThe Zombieland pilot is based on the film of the same name

"This isn't X Factor for some new titles where you get to vote and they're fairly gimmicky," Mr Morris said. "It has a unique position in the world in that it has a platform that's a pay platform, it has an entertainment platform."

He said that the "world of digital has been growing, driven in large part by the BBC iPlayer, from about 2008" and that he saw this move as the next stage.

"Mass-market digital consumption and streaming have come of age in the last few years," he added.

'Promotional tool'

But Toby Syfret, TV analyst for Enders Analysis, was sceptical about the venture, describing it as a "gimmick" and said he did not think it would make much of a dent in the TV landscape.

"I think the success of this will have a huge amount to do with the publicity they can get for it."

image captionKevin Spacey's House of Cards was made and broadcast on Netflix

Amazon and Lovefilm were able to put pilots to the public vote because "they are not TV channels with set budgets", he said, adding that "you cannot sustain a programming operation if you let viewers decide - you're losing control of the purse strings".

He also queried whether programme-makers would want the public vote to potentially leave them "committed to the most expensive thing which is least good".

"Programme makers may end up saying 'we'll go with it, but it's a bit expensive so we'll cut the budget' - and then you've done what the public's asked but it's been slashed by half," he added.

"Ultimately, this is a promotional tool - Amazon's thinking that Netflix has done it this way [by broadcasting Kevin Spacey's House of Cards drama series] so we'll come at it from another way."

Earlier this year, the streaming TV and movie service Netflix made and broadcast House of Cards, and revealed plans to make at least five new shows a year.

YouTube, owned by Google, also recently launched its original channels initiative with 20 new channels coming from the UK.

Mr Morris said that the key thing that marked his venture out was that "the platform is open".

"Not everyone has the opportunity to go and pitch an idea to HBO in New York, not everyone can get on a plane to Cannes and pitch a script," he said.

"But there is now a vehicle whereby people are in a place that independent writers - whether they've got a track record or not - can put content through and it can be evaluated and brought to market. And that's the exciting thing about this."

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