Amazon Prime Video Sees Itself as a ‘Global Network,’ and Says It’s Not Focused on Netflix

‘It’s all about the content,' says chief Jennifer Salke

Jennifer Salke (with, l. to r., TV co-heads Albert Cheng and Vernon Sanders) accepted the Amazon job exactly one year ago.
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It’s been exactly one year since Jennifer Salke accepted the job as head of Amazon Studios, and she gave reporters a state of the union at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif.

One of her big initiatives when she arrived at Amazon from NBC, Salke said, was getting her hands around Amazon’s global community in order to diversify the company’s storytelling.

“We’re aware that we’re in a race for talent globally,” Salke said. “Not because of a fear of competition, but where we know our customers are.”

To that end, Salke has greenlit 20 new and returning international series, including a Japanese version of The Bachelorette.

“We’re a global network, and we’re going to be making shows for our customers all around the world,” said Albert Cheng, co-head of television, Amazon Studios.

But the company still has a heavy focus on its U.S. audience. Salke renewed Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan for a third season, even though Season 2 has yet to air. The company has also signed Al Pacino to star in The Hunt, a Nazi-hunting vengeance drama from executive producer Jordan Peele.

And Amazon ordered The Power, a 10-part series based on British author Naomi Alderman’s best-seller. The series will be directed by Reed Morano, who has an exclusive TV deal with Amazon.

“We’re taking a curated approach to our roster and slate,” Salke said. “It’s all about the content.”

Vernon Sanders, Amazon’s co-head of television, said Amazon isn’t making any of its moves in response to its biggest streaming competitor, Netflix. “We’re so focused on what we’re doing with talent,” he said.

Amazon has extended its deal with Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, the writing, directing and producing team behind The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which was created by Sherman-Palladino. Amazon will be in business with them “for years to come,” said Salke, adding that she’s heard the duo’s ideas for Season 3 of Mrs. Maisel and is “more than confident” about the show’s direction.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel won eight Emmys last year, including outstanding comedy series. Those wins are driving traffic to the show, which is “outperforming expectations across the service,” according to Salke.

Amazon’s new series Homecoming also received critical acclaim last year, but star Julia Roberts won’t be returning for Season 2. “Julia was always only intended to be in the first season,” Salke said.

Sanders said Homecoming producers have “compelling” creative for Season 2, and they hope to have casting news “sooner rather than later.”

Another one-and-done agreement, Salke said, was for Matthew Weiner’s tepidly received Mad Men followup, The Romanoffs. “That was designed to be a one-season show,” said Salke, who is talking with him about other projects.

One show that will indeed be returning is Transparent, which will conclude with a musical movie later this year. (Star Jeffrey Tambor, who was the subject of sexual harassment allegations from Transparent staffers, exited the series in 2017.)

The musical wrap-up was creator Jill Soloway’s idea, said Salke, adding that it is “really special … it brings the whole thing full circle” and “does everything that you would want it to do.” Salke is thinking about ways to “eventize that ending, because it deserves to have a lot of eyeballs on it.”

Salke didn’t have an update on Amazon’s long-gestating Lord of the Rings TV project the company landed the rights to in 2017 for a reported $250 million. Writers JD Payne and Patrick McKay, whom Amazon hired last year to develop the project, “are making great progress,” she said. There’s also no word on whether Peter Jackson, who directed six Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, will be involved in the TV series.

One topic Salke didn’t discuss at all: Woody Allen’s recent lawsuit against her company for canceling its $68 million deal with him. “I really can’t comment,” she said. “It predated me.”

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