Fresh off the success of its comedy series “Transparent,” which won the best comedy category at the Golden Globes, Amazon is expanding its reach into films and television dramas. This year, it will release five original dramas, and first up is “Bosch,” a one-hour drama based on Michael Connelly’s crime novels. The program launched earlier this month and centers on Los Angeles police detective Harry Bosch. Connelly’s novels have been a fixture on Amazon for years, so it made sense for the retailer to approach the author about turning his work into a television series.
So far, “Bosch” is the most-watched title for Amazon Prime Video users. We talked to Morgan Wandell, Amazon’s head of TV drama, about the company’s push to bring original shows and films to Prime members. Wandell, a former ABC TV executive, joined Amazon in 2013. He talked about what makes a good Amazon project, the difference between broadcast networks and streaming, and the how to get the best shows. The following is an edited version of the interview.
Cecilia Kang: The success of “Transparent” has put Amazon on the map. How will you keep up the momentum, given all the competition in streaming?
Morgan Wandell: The Golden Globes was tremendous and it was a big validation for “Transparent” and all the great work Jill Solloway and the crew did on that show. But it was also very validating for us at the studio. We are trying to propagate that by finding the best people, like Jill, and giving them resources to do their best work and take real shots. We want them to pursue their passion projects, creating things that are so specific and meaningful and passion-instilling in audiences. We feel that is the only way to do this.
What attracted you to to “Bosch”?
Wandell: There was an obvious relationship because of Amazon‘s connection to books and selling books, and Michael Connelly has talked at great length about the importance of Amazon and getting millions of copies of his novels into hands of customers. So it was clear to us that there was real interest and demand for Harry Bosch as a television series. “Bosch” premiered on the service in the U.S., U.K. and Germany and already is the best performing original series for Amazon Instant Video across all movies and TV shows.
Netflix is increasing its content budget by $1 billion. Time Warner is increasing its production budget by more than $4 billion over the next few years. Amazon Studios also reportedly spent about $1.3 billion total on entertainment content last year. That’s a lot of money competing for the best show creators and projects. And it feels like there may be just too much content in the pipeline.
Wandell: I don’t think so. There is a lot of stuff out there, and lots of outlets are creating scripted programming, including 50 networks. But that’s why the bar is so high. This is what I’ve been saying. You have to be someone’s favorite show that they absolutely can’t live without. We don’t want to be 20 million people’s third-favorite show.
What are you doing to beat HBO and Netflix for the best shows? “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway has talked about how she went with Amazon in part she was able to keep the most control over her project and because the process was so stripped-down and fast.
Wandell: Every deal is different, so I wouldn’t want to get too specific about them. But I think what we are trying to do here is create a really unique environment where the most gifted story tellers and creators feel empowered to take creative risks. When you get it right, like Jill in “Transparent,” you get something special. We are trying to foster and propagate that. We are scouring the community to find the most gifted people to get unique points of view, to create flawed and interesting characters.
How is your experience at Amazon different than the networks?
Wandell: I’ve worked in a traditional broadcast environment, and what I think is really unique about Amazon is that what we are able to offer is a very lean and mean environment where there aren’t lots of layers of bureaucracy. We deal one on one with creators, and that translates into them being able to take more unfiltered shots in the development process. In broadcast, what becomes tricky is when you have a whole schedule and want to keep [viewers] around you for a whole night and try to figure out that tricky math of keeping people after “Modern Family” and before “The Bachelor.” At Amazon, we don’t have to compromise in that way.
How do you measure the success of an original show?
Wandell: Lots of ways. You can go on IMBD.com and look at ratings, for one. We look at comments there and other forms of feedback. What I think is important to us is that it’s not ultimately a numbers game. What’s most important is that we are creating somebody’s favorite show. That is satisfying for customers who are already on Prime. And we are looking to deliver distinctive programs that attract new customers to Prime and get excited about signing up.