LOS ANGELES - An online-only television comedy series created by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, who grew up in Saranac Lake, will be part of Amazon.com's first venture into TV show production, the company announced Wednesday.
"Alpha House" is a political satire about four Republican senators who rent a house together on Washington's Capitol Hill. One of them is played by famous actor John Goodman; the others are played by Mark Consuelos, Clark Johnson and Matt Malloy.
Amazon Studios, a production subsidiary of Amazon.com, will produce at least 10 episodes of "Alpha House" to air later this year and into 2014.
Garry Trudeau chats in Saranac Lake in July 2012.
(Enterprise file photo — Peter Crowley)
Amazon also announced it will produce "Betas," a comedy about four friends and the new mobile social networking app they are developing, and three children's shows: "Annebots," which centers on a young scientist and her robot helpers, "Creative Galaxy," an animated series, and "Tumbleaf," aimed at preschoolers.
The five shows were culled from 14 pilots that were put up for free on its website and made available over Amazon's video apps on mobile devices and game consoles starting in April. Executives looked at ratings, reviews and view counts in a process that upended traditional TV show development. Traditional TV studios generally screen pilot episodes before small focus groups and executives before determining which go into production.
The shows announced are Amazon's first original series.
Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios, said he was gratified that the pilots generated hundreds of thousands of views from people in the U.S. and Britain. He said the company looks forward to repeating the process again.
"Once you have hundreds of thousands of people watch a specific pilot, you're not talking about a focus group anymore," Price said in a phone interview from Amazon's Seattle headquarters. "You're asking your actual audience how they feel about it."
Amazon has been trying to develop movies and TV shows based on thousands of scripts it has received since soliciting them in November 2010, although only one of the 14 pilots made for viewer feedback came out of that process. It was "Those Who Can't" and wasn't ultimately selected.
Another show that didn't make the cut was "Zombieland," which came from the creators of the hit Columbia Pictures movie of the same name. Price said it is possible for some failed pilots to be reworked and tested again.
The series are to air in the U.S., Britain and Germany later this year or next year.
Other than some possible free sampling, the videos will be made available only to subscribers of Amazon Prime, the online retailer's $79-a-year membership plan. Amazon Prime also provides customers with free two-day shipping on certain items bought at Amazon.com, a book borrowing club and other videos to watch.
Amazon is still considering whether to release all the episodes for a season at once - the way Netflix Inc. has done with its original series such as "Arrested Development" and "House of Cards" - or to release them in spurts or one at a time.
Amazon competes in subscription video with such services as Netflix and Hulu Plus, which have made their own significant forays into original programming. But Amazon has an added motivation to get people to sign up for Prime memberships, which make them more likely to purchase other things from Amazon.
Although Netflix didn't have subscribers watch pilots before committing to a full season, the service has extensive data on viewer habits. With "Arrested Development," Netflix studied how the first three seasons performed on its service after the series' cancellation by Fox in 2006.