Woody Allen to write, direct TV series for Amazon

  • Reuters, Los Angeles/San Francisco
  • Updated: Jan 14, 2015 20:09 IST

Woody Allen is all set to make his first small screen venture, as Amazon signs him for writing and directing an online series, the latest coup by deep-pocketed cable and streaming companies in luring the biggest names in film to television.

The Internet retailer rolled out the news of Allen's series on Tuesday, two days after winning its first major awards at the Golden Globes following years of experimentation with developing original programming.

The deal with Allen, 79, who has said he doesn't use email or own a computer, puts the filmmaker at the heart of Amazon's strategy to use original content to woo consumers to its $99-a-year Prime program, a vehicle for online shopping with free shipping. "The end game for Amazon is just getting more people to buy into Prime, and this is their way of doing it," said Paul Verna, a senior analyst at market research company eMarketer.

"It's almost as if they use content to get people to buy into this program that is about a lot more than video content," Verna added. Filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher and Guillermo del Toro have all made recent forays into television. Premium cable networks like Time Warner Inc's HBO and Amazon's online streaming rival Netflix have offered directors the chance and resources to tell longer-form stories over several episodes and hours.
"I think any program developer or producer or director who has a series or script or anything, at this point they're looking at Amazon as on par with Netflix and really the whole rest of the ecosystem," Verna said.

Amazon has been spending more on content overall, including $100 million in the third quarter alone on original shows, in the latest sign of founder Jeff Bezos' hunger to dominate businesses from books, to phones to entertainment.

Allen's yet-to-be titled series will be a half-hour, Amazon said, adding that casting announcements would be made in the future. The series will be shown exclusively on its Instant Prime Video service next year.

The famously press-shy Allen joked that he was not sure how he got involved in the project. "I have no ideas and I'm not sure where to begin," the Oscar-winning director said in a statement. "My guess is that Roy Price will regret this," he added, referring to the vice-president of Amazon Studios.

Known for his ironic insight into contemporary life, Allen has starred in many of his own films, including generation-defining comedies like Annie Hall. The deal cements Amazon's credibility following Sunday's Golden Globe win for Transparent, which is about a man transitioning to live as a woman. The show's lead, Jeffrey Tambor, also won a Globe for best actor in a TV comedy series.

"Amazon needed to prove they were a serious player in television because there was always kind of a question mark of how real are they," said Eric Deggans, National Public Radio's TV critic. Like Transparent, Allen's upcoming series and 13 new pilots for programs that Amazon will unveil on Thursday will only be available on Prime.

The Amazon Studios division began operations in 2010.

Allen, who makes a film almost every year through art-house studio Sony Pictures Classics, has joked about his profitability as an artist. "The two biggest myths about me are that I'm an intellectual, because I wear these glasses, and that I'm an artist because my films lose money," he once said. "Those two myths have been prevalent for many years."

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