The online commenter’s life is rife with uncertainty. It’s difficult, for example, to determine whether your Yelp complaint or someone else’s prompted that local restaurant to close.
But Amazon draws a straight line between cause and effect, opinion and action.
The online retail giant, through its TV/film streaming service Amazon Instant Video, once again has empowered viewers to help determine which of its new pilots will be made into series.
Amazon, which now generates original content in much the way Netflix does and debuted its first two series in November, is giving a second wave of pilots – five for adults, five for kids – a trial run at Amazon.com (click “instant video”).
As it first did last year with a pilot season that yielded the comedies “Alpha House” and “Betas,” Amazon will base series decisions partly on how many people watch and on customer reviews.
The 2014 pilot bunch comes with more prestige than last year’s. Amazon focused on half-hour comedy last year but enters Netflix territory this season with two hourlong dramas: “The After,” an apocalyptic drama from “X Files” creator Chris Carter, and “Bosch” from writer Michael Connelly.
But the comedies still make the biggest splash, led by “Mozart in the Jungle,” co-written by Roman Coppola (“Moonrise Kingdom”) and his cousin Jason Schwartzman.
As it follows musician characters who vie for first chair and hook up at parties, “Mozart” makes the classical-music world seem the sexiest it has on screen since the 1980 film “The Competition.” (Which come to think of it was not all that sexy, proving how unusual this pilot is.)
These pilots boast production values that indicate substantial investments by in-house content provider Amazon Studios. And though the original content targets Amazon Prime subscribers, who pay $79 a year for service that includes free two-day shipping and access to 40,000 streamed movies and TV episodes, anyone can watch – and rate – the pilots for free.
At least until March 9, when pilot season ends, and Amazon starts turning some – numbers are not certain yet – pilots into series.
Including viewer feedback on pilots is “an extension” of Amazon’s larger policy on all products, said Joe Lewis, Amazon Studios’ head of comedy. “We want to make sure if we go for a whole series, it’s one that people want,” he said. “It’s experimentation. Television has been doing this for 70 years.”
Not quite like this. Network executives in the 1950s obviously lacked the feedback mechanisms at Amazon’s disposal. Those mechanisms helped the streaming service cull “Alpha House,” “Betas” and three children’s series from last year’s batch of 14 pilots.
The debuts of “Alpha,” in which John Goodman stars as a GOP senator rooming with three colleagues, and “Betas,” which follows four Silicon Valley workers, brought little of the fanfare that accompanies Netflix shows like “House of Cards.”
But Amazon reported that “Alpha,” created by “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau, was the most-watched series among Prime subscribers the weekend after its release (actual viewer numbers were not made available). It has renewed the show for a second season.
Amazon considers viewer habits even before making pilots. “We look at what people are interested in – more than what they say, but what they do, what they watch,” Lewis said. “We look at the news, and at what (the press) might want to write about. Ideas like sex and drugs and opera.”
Lewis is alluding to “Mozart,” which ought to be the gamma to “Alpha House” and “Betas” in Amazon’s rollout of original series. In the pilot, actor Gael Garcia Bernal (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) gives a winking performance as an enfant terrible symphony conductor. But it focuses on a talented young oboist (Lola Kirke) and her arty friends as they cavort in between auditions.
The earthy “Transparent,” from former “Six Feet Under” producer Jill Soloway, stars the incomparable Jeffrey Tambor (“Arrested Development”) as a father keeping a deeply personal secret from his three grown children.
Rounding out the comedy pilots is the Ice Cube-executive produced “The Rebels,” which follows an NFL owner’s young widow (Natalie Zea) and the team she inherited. “Rebels” hews most closely, among the comedies, to network sitcom formula. Only with more drug references and profanity.
The five pilots aimed at adults carry “TV-MA” ratings familiar to viewers of pay-cable and Netflix series. They’re often similar in tone as well. The moody “Bosch,” based on Connelly’s novels about fictional LAPD Detective Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver, combining a fireplug build and thoughtful manner) would fit easily on Showtime.
It’s hard to say where “The After” might fit, because its generic Los Angeles settings and vague scenes of panic did not keep me interested long enough to discern exactly what catastrophe comes before “The After.”
But that’s just one opinion. Amazon wants many.
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.