Amazon is proving that it's serious about being an online TV network. A week after releasing the Fire TV set-top box and a few weeks after green lighting several new comedy and drama pilots for full production, the tech giant has announced today (Apr. 9) its third round of pilot shows, starting with two titles with A-list (or at least B+list) directors and actors.
The first is a half-hour, young expatriate dramedy "The Cosmopolitans" by director Whit Stillman (of "The Last Days of Disco" and "Barcelona"). The second, "Hand of God," is an hour-long drama about a judge turned vigilante produced by Marc Forster (famous for directing "Monsters Ball" and "World War Z"). The two shows start shooting this month, and an Amazon press release stated that more pilots "will be announced in the coming weeks." When the pilots debut "later this year," as Amazon put it, viewers will be asked to vote on their favorites to be made into full series.
Like Netflix — and unlike Hulu and Yahoo — Amazon is bankrolling big shows with big talent. Four pilots that Amazon just green lighted for full production include "The X-Files" creator Chris Carter and actors such as Malcolm McDowell, Gael Garcia Bernal and Jeffrey Tambor.
"The Cosmopolitans," written and directed by Stillman, "follows a group of young American expatriates in Paris searching for love and friendship in a foreign city," as Amazon describes it. The show sounds a bit reminiscent of Stillman's 1994 film "Barcelona," about expats in the Spanish "It" city of the day. "The Cosmopolitans" reunites Stillman with Chloë Sevigny (of "Big Love" fame), who stared in his 1998 film, "The Last Days of Disco," another story about young people finding their way in the world. Her co-star, Adam Brody, has online TV experience as a guest on the satire "Burning Love," probably the best-known of Yahoo's comedy shows.
"Hand of God" stars veteran scary guy Ron Perlman, who spend 5 years on "Sons of Anarchy" and is now shooting his third go as "Hellboy." His character in Amazon's show, Judge Pernell Harris, sounds fittingly hellish. Amazon describes him as a "hard-living, law-bending married man with a high-end call girl on the side, who suffers a mental breakdown, and goes on a vigilante quest to find the rapist who tore his family apart." Yikes!
Though Netflix has been building an image of itself as the HBO of online with shows like "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black," Amazon is chasing Netflix vigorously, starting work on a second season of political satire "Alpha House" with John Goodman, as well as shooting four new shows: dramas "Bosch" and "The After" and the dramedies "Transparent" and "Mozart in the Jungle." Netflix, on the other hand, has been fairly quite of late. It's new live-action title for April, "Short Poppies" is a more modest production as a mockumentary about a small New Zealand town in which Rhys Darby from "Flight of the Conchords" plays every character.
On the other hand, Amazon may fee it has to offer more to its subscribers to justify a price increase of its Amazon Prime subscription program from $79 to $99 per year. (In addition to access to its video service, Prime includes free two-day shipping and limited access to free Kindle books.) And despite its stated ethos as an "open ecosystem" for all content providers, the new Fire TV is a very Amazon-centric device, so the company needs to show why its video service is worth all the fuss.
With "Sesame Street" launching its own streaming channel this week and Yahoo expected to announce a slate of new shows on April 28, it's a busy time indeed for online TV.