Amazon Prime Instant Video, the on-demand service of the online retailer, is homing in on Netflix as they begin to acquire and produce their own slate of original programming for their subscribers. Coming soon will be an adaptation of the movie, Zombieland, to be produced by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the creative minds behind one of the top-grossing zombie movies ever made. Of course, don’t expect the original leads in the film (Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin) to be in the Amazon version… rather, the cast is made up of young stars on the rise (Kirk Ward and Maiara Walsh, and others), but promises to be every bit as gory and goofy as the movie, though it will have a tougher road to climb on VOD with AMC’s highly popular (though less goofy) The Walking Dead already in its third apocalyptic season.
One of the most noticeable aspects of yesterday’s announcement is that Amazon will be basically buying and broadcasting a pilot episode to see if it tests well with subscribers before committing to a series, unlike Netflix which, confident of its subscriber data and algorithms used to mine their subscriber’s tastes, produced 13 episodes of House of Cards and the upcoming Eli Roth gothic, Hemlock Grove, immediately releasing all episodes for viewing. Netflix’s approach pushes against the standard TV process of releasing weekly episodes and caters to the new content consumption paradigm that favors a marathon or binge approach to watching shows that has quickly caught on with viewers. Previously, Netflix and other VOD subscription services were regulated to allowing viewers to gorge on shows from the cable networks, but only once the shows were either past their prime or had already show a few seasons worth of episodes. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos seems to be testing the waters rather than taking the big plunge that Reed Hastings has into original programming, but that’s not to say Amazon isn’t prepping for bigger and better things when it comes to original programming and the rise of subscriber-based VOD which may soon displace cable and traditional TV as the way to enjoy entertainment at home and on the go.
This isn’t Amazon’s first foray into production of content, as they once partnered with 20th Century Fox to produce a film called The Stolen Child, and Amazon is already know for content creation in the realm of publishing. In late 2010 they launched crowdsourcing site, Amazon Studios, to foster original content development from independent filmmakers and comic book artists. For the creators of Zombieland, they probably could not have found a better place to showcase their gruesome brand of fun since it’s becoming notoriously difficult to rise above the fray when pitching the cable networks, and traditional television networks would obviously require that any bloody zombie mayhem be toned down considerably, even with the crazy popularity of The Walking Dead proving that audiences are more than up to seeing things like a bloody Caesarian section, a kid blowing his mother’s brains out and a de rigueur zombie feast every week. If NBC, CBS or ABC attempted to go balls-to-the-wall with gore (and the kind of sex often seen on shows like Weeds and Californication) the church elders and blue-haired ladies at the Parents Television Council would have a major conniption and the holier- than-thous in Congress would probably host a week of concerned discussions about it. Interestingly, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick originally took their adaptation concept to Fox Broadcasting and Sony Pictures with the idea that they would do a weekly show on CBS (this, since any plans for a sequel to Zombieland have been in limbo with some of the actors not willing to participate). It’s doubtful that the kind of show the producers have in mind would have been possible at CBS, but on Amazon expect the full-tilt treatment of the material.
Amazon’s version of Zombieland does have additional pedigree with horror-comedy director Eli Craig (Tucker & Dale vs Evil) helming the pilot. It will be interesting to see how it all comes together, since the movie had the remaining characters in search of a place to exist with far fewer zombies around and many of the comedy elements have been already realized (it’s probably not a smart move to repeat the original’s clever “zombie rules” for surviving the apocalypse, or create any hackneyed new ones). It would also be a drag if they trotted out actors from the 80s and 90s to cameo here and there, though the Bill Murray (yeah, spoiler, so what) cameo was a real treat in the movie version.
Amazon is also working on other pilots for possible inclusion into their VOD service such as Onion News Empire (in conjunction with the satirical website mavens at The Onion) and Alpha House, to be created/produced by “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau (John Goodman is expected to take the lead in this one). Once the pilot episodes (including Zombieland) are posted to the Amazon Instant site, viewers will be asked to rate them and comment. Amazon will take all the information into consideration when deciding which of the shows to produce.