Amazon seeks comedies and kids shows to rival Netflix

The studio arm of the online retail giant aims to build its catalog of original programming, soliciting pitches for episodic comedies and children's shows.

Seeking to boost original content for its Amazon Instant Video service, Amazon Studios today put out the call for pilots for comedies and kids shows.

Since it launched in November 2010 , Amazon Studios had focused on films, both full-length features and shorter films. This is its first foray into episodic programming.

Amazon Studios' Roy Price Roy Price's Twitter account

"In the course of developing movies, we've heard a lot of interest from content creators who want to develop original series in the comedy and children's genres," Amazon Studios director Roy Price said in a statement.

Amazon Studios works differently than traditional Hollywood production companies. It solicits original scripts via the Web, which writers can have reviewed publicly or by the studio staff. Amazon says that more than 700 test movies and 7,000 scripts have been submitted and that 15 movie projects are currently under development.

For the new television series, Amazon Studios is asking writers to submit a five-page description of the show, along with a 22-minute pilot script for a comedy or an 11-minute pilot script for a children's show. Within 45 days, the studio said it will either extend an option on the project for $10,000 or invite the creator to add it to the Amazon Studios site. Writers can remove projects that aren't optioned from the site, or leave them there to get feedback from the Amazon Studios community.

The studio's goal is to option one project each month, adding it to a development slate to test with an audience. Those that get developed into a series will earn their writers a $55,000 payment and up to 5 percent of Amazon's net receipts from toy and T-shirt licensing and other royalties. Amazon plans to distribute those series through Amazon Instant Video, its Netflix and Hulu competitor.

Amazon has tapped Joe Lewis, previously with 20th Century Fox and Comedy Central, and Tara Sorensen, formerly with National Geographic Kids, to lead its new series development. Two months ago, Lewis inadvertently tipped Amazon's hand on the episodic programming move, updating his LinkedIn account with the new title of vice president of original television at Amazon, which he removed after a reporter asked about it.

The focus on episodic series is the latest effort by Amazon to create original content for Amazon Instant Video. The idea, of course, is to come up with must-see programming that's only available on the service as a way to differentiate it from rivals. What's more, some studios are holding back some of their most prime original content to distribute it themselves.

Amazon's rivals are playing a similar game. Earlier this year, Netflix announced plans to launch its first original episodic show, "Lilyhammer," about a mobster who moves to Lillehammer, Norway, in the federal witness protection program. Last month, Hulu unveiled four original shows , including "The Awesomes," an animated series from "Saturday Night Live" head writer Seth Meyers. And YouTube today announced plans for Wigs, a women-oriented channel producing original series and short films run by Jon Avnet, who produced "Black Swan," and Rodrigo Garcia, who directed "Albert Nobbs."

About the author

Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).

 

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