Seven months after Amazon Prime's first “pilot” season, the first two winning shows from that experiment are hitting the service — in Greek alphabetical order.
Nov. 15 saw the launch of “Alpha House,” the political comedy by “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau about four U.S. senators (John Goodman, Clark Johnson, Mark Consuelos and Matt Malloy) sharing a Washington, D.C. apartment, and “Betas,” a Silicon Valley-based sitcom about young entrepreneurs trying to get attention for their startup, arrives this Friday. The “Betas” pilot, which was directed by Michael Lehmann (“Heathers”) and felt a lot like “The Social Network” with a welcome infusion of raw nastiness, featured a great cast including Oklahoma's Own™ Tyson Ritter of the All-American Rejects (recently on “Parenthood”) in a supporting role.
Unlike Netflix' binge-viewing style of posting entire seasons of its series, Amazon Prime will take a more traditional tack with its original programming by uploading new episodes each week.
The involvement of industry veterans such as Trudeau and Lehmann are only the first indication that the front-runners in the next wave of potential streaming video hits come with lengthy filmographies. Almost all of the series that went up in Amazon's April-May 2013 pilot season, which were voted on by viewers, were created by people with years of experience pitching pilots to cable channels or networks, and more than a few have feature film credits. It's not amateur hour — or in the case of “Alpha House” and “Betas,” half-hour. And the marquee names continue: last month, Amazon announced it was picking up “The After,” a new drama from “X-Files” creator Chris Carter.
The reasons why a proven creative force like Carter would take his series to a streaming service make total sense: fewer middle managers are lining up to give you “notes” on the new frontier. Showtime executives are probably grinding their teeth over not keeping “Weeds” creator Jenji Kohan in the fold and letting her take “Orange is the New Black” to Netflix, but untested waters generally afford more creative freedom. Also, Kohan undoubtedly generated more buzz for her show because of where it landed.
Of course, nothing stays gold, Ponyboy. As more creators and show-runners look to future Amazon Prime pilot seasons for their new projects and decide to forego the cable or network routes, it stands to reason that Amazon Prime and Netflix will probably be infected with the micromanagement disease that permeates the old-school process. Here's hoping that is not the case, because this first year of streaming programming proves that their current model is working.