Culture

Amazon signs Woody Allen to create online TV series

File - Woody Allen arrives for the New York premiere of his film "Magic in the Moonlight," July 17, 2014. Reuters/Lucas Jackson

LOS ANGELES/SAN FRANCISCO: Woody Allen will return to the small screen, writing and directing an online series for Amazon.com. It’s the latest coup by deep-pocketed cable and streaming companies in luring the biggest names in film to television.The Internet retailer rolled out the news of Allen’s series Tuesday, two days after winning its first major awards at the Golden Globes following years of experimentation with developing original programming.

The deal with Allen, 79, who has said he doesn’t use email or own a computer, puts the filmmaker at the heart of Amazon’s strategy to use original content to woo consumers to its online shopping vehicle, Prime.

Filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher and Guillermo del Toro have all made recent forays into television. Premium cable networks like Time Warner Inc.’s HBO and Amazon’s online streaming rival Netflix have offered directors the chance and resources to tell longer-form stories over several episodes and hours.

Amazon has been spending more on content overall, including $100 million in the third quarter alone on original shows. It’s the latest sign of founder Jeff Bezos’ hunger to dominate businesses from books, to phones, to entertainment.

Allen’s untitled series will be 30 minutes, Amazon said, adding that casting announcements would be made in the future. It will be shown exclusively on Instant Prime Video.

This is by no means Allen’s first experience with the small screen.

As television took center stage in U.S. living rooms in the mid-1950s, Allen found lucrative work as a gag writer for comedian Sid Caesar and variety show host Garry Moore.

He wrote and appeared in some episodes of “Candid Camera,” turned up as a guest panelist on “What’s My Line?” and recorded a one-off stand-up comedy special for British television in 1965, “The Woody Allen Show.”

For U.S. public television, Allen directed and starred in a mock documentary in 1971, “Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story,” lampooning then-president Richard Nixon.

Its biting satire proved too much for television executives, who nixed the flick at the last minute, fearing Nixon might retaliate with a funding cut. “Men of Crisis” endures on video websites.

The same year, Allen did a turn as guest host of NBC television’s venerable late-night program “The Tonight Show.”

Allen wrote and directed a three-minute television comedy short in 2001, called “Sounds from a Town I Love,” about his beloved hometown New York in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Allen joked that he was not sure how he got involved in the Amazon project.

“I have no ideas and I’m not sure where to begin,” the Oscar-winning director said in a statement. “My guess is that [Amazon Studios vice president] Roy Price will regret this.”

Known for his ironic insight into contemporary life, Allen has starred in many of his own films, including generation-defining comedies like “Annie Hall.”

The deal cements Amazon’s credibility following Sunday’s Golden Globe win for “Transparent,” about a man transitioning to live as a woman. Lead Jeffrey Tambor also won a Globe for best actor in a TV comedy series.

Like “Transparent,” Allen’s upcoming series and 13 new pilots for programs that Amazon will unveil Thursday will only be available on Prime.

The Amazon Studios division began operations in 2010.

Allen, who makes a film almost every year through arthouse studio Sony Pictures Classics, has joked about his profitability as an artist.

“The two biggest myths about me are that I’m an intellectual, because I wear these glasses, and that I’m an artist because my films lose money,” he once said. “Those two myths have been prevalent for many years.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 15, 2015, on page 16.

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