What if the Nazis had won? That's the chilling premise of "The Man in the High Castle", based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, which became Amazon's most-watched pilot ever and will now be expanded into a full series to be shown online.
The one-off trial episode of "The Man in the High Castle" was produced and shown as part of Amazon's Pilot Season programme. A couple of times a year Amazon releases a batch of pilot episodes for potential new shows, and you vote for which one you want to see as a full series. The shows appear on Amazon Instant Video.
From the latest round of pilots, Amazon also greenlit documentary series "The New Yorker Presents" with kids shows "Just Add Magic" and "The Stinky & Dirty Show". It also confirmed more episodes of a US version of British black comedy "Mad Dogs".
Previous successful pilots include "Bosch" and the Golden Globe award-winning "".
"The Man in the High Castle" is based on the 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick, set in 1962 in an alternate version of Earth history wherein the forces of Japan and Germany won the second World War. The victorious Axis powers have divided the USA into puppet states, the Japanese on the west coast and the Nazis on the east, with a neutral zone in the middle.
The pilot episode follows two young Americans drawn into the resistance movement as they head across the country toward each other, while brutal Nazi officers and Japanese diplomats plot and scheme behind the scenes. Executive-produced by Ridley Scott -- what isn't, these days? -- it stars Alexa Davalos, Luke Kleintank and Rupert Evans, with Rufus Sewell as a brutal Nazi officer and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as a Japanese official.
The green light is a well-deserved result for the show: the pilot is excellent, deftly sketching the main characters and setting up the alternate world, capturing the dull tension and fear of life under enemy occupation. It also looks great, capably realising both the alternate San Francisco and New York. But as impressive as the image of a teeming, swastika-draped Times Square is, the most chilling moment comes from a soft drift of ash across the countryside...
Perhaps due to its complex and provocative subject matter and a hard-to-realise alternate-world setting, the series has struggled to find a home for years, with the BBC and Syfy considering and passing on a miniseries. But this is exactly the kind of challenging project that online services should find; broadcasters like Amazon and Netflix can cut out the middleman of network television to ask the viewer directly what they want to see, without having to worry about nervous advertisers or other broadcast TV constraints.
Netflix, for example, picked up "House of Cards" on the strength of the data it had collected from viewers about Kevin Spacey and David Fincher's previous projects, while networks hedged by insisting on a pilot -- much to Spacey's chagrin -- before they would even consider committing. And Amazon's pilot scheme cuts out second-guessing executives by putting the power in your hands.
The only drawback of Amazon's scheme? We have to wait a year to find out what happens next.