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Amazon Studios Confirms That Its ‘Pilot Season’ Voting Gimmick Is No More — Here’s Why

TCA: New Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke and her lieutenants meet the press for the first time in her new job.

Jennifer SalkeAmazon Studios Executive Session panel, TCA Summer Press Tour, Los Angeles, USA - 28 Jul 2018

Jennifer Salke

David Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

When Amazon Prime Video first introduced its original series, it did so with a stunt: The public was asked to vote on which pilots they wanted Amazon to order to series.

It was always a bit of a ruse, of course, as Amazon still made its ultimate greenlight decisions like any other network: Based on creative — and even more importantly, economic — reasons.

Nonetheless, it was a useful marketing tool for Amazon early on, as it drummed up interest in potential new series. Some shows, of course, weren’t heavily voted (like “Transparent”) but were picked up anyway, and went on to critical acclaim and cultural relevance. But in recent years, Amazon pulled back on its public “pilot seasons,” opting more and more for straight-to-series orders.

The last “Amazon Pilot Season” vote was in fall 2017 — right around the time that original Amazon Studios boss Roy Price was pushed out of the company over a sexual harassment scandal.

Now, the “Amazon Pilot Season” link goes to a dead page, and new Amazon Studios boss Jennifer Salke confirmed to reporters on Saturday what was already pretty much known: The gimmick is dead.

Albert Cheng, Jennifer Salke and Vernon SandersAmazon Studios Executive Session panel, TCA Summer Press Tour, Los Angeles, USA - 28 Jul 2018

Albert Cheng, Jennifer Salke and Vernon Sanders

David Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

“I never say never, but right that version of it is not something we’re doing,” Salke said at Amazon’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour on Saturday. “But you will see us investing in pilots. We will use our own testing barometers and some audience-driven data to make decisions.”

Albert Cheng, Amazon Studios’ co-head of TV, is an Amazon vet who experienced the pilot season and said that the studio realized that “it took too long to get shows that customers wanted. You think about the pilot process, you have the pilot process, you vote, it gets a greenlight, and there’s this protracted time to get the writing ready. It took way too long to get the actual season. Part of that was making sure customers got their shows as quickly as possible.”

Agreed Salke: “Keeping the momentum and delivering on that hit a bit of a skid there.”

Saturday’s panel was Salke’s first TCA press tour since taking over as Amazon Studios head, having moved from her previous job as NBC Entertainment president this spring. She was flanked by Cheng and TV co-head Vernon Sanders, another NBCUniversal alum.

“It’s been a busy five months for me here at Amazon,” she said. Salke’s arrival coincided with Amazon Studios’ move to Culver Studios, which she touted as a creative home for talent. “We continue to steadily build our roster of creative partners,” she added.

Salke revealed a long list of announcements, including a Season 3 renewal for “Sneaky Pete,” which begins production this week in Los Angeles.

“We’re going to build a more curated group of talented creators and artists, and build out the very best in content for our customers,” she said. “You won’t see some giant volume play, or ‘oh, she’s from the network so they’re going to go broad.’ We have a vast reach, [but] we don’t want to compromise on quality.”

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