When Jennifer Salke joined Amazon Studios as their new head of content this year, the former NBC president had three goals in mind: fix the corporate culture, empower women, and make the studio the prime destination for premier showrunners and filmmakers. Since stating her plans, Salke has made waves and stuck to her promises. The future of Amazon Studios is looking strong as they strive to compete with their streaming competitors, and the talent she’s acquired is awe-inspiring.
While Salke is focused on providing a mix of compelling original features and television shows, the latter is her priority. Speaking at the Gould School of Law’s Institute on Entertainment Law and Business media summit (via Deadline), she revealed the studio’s plans to make quality television their bread and butter:
“For us, our sweet spot are these addictive, can’t-miss, global television shows. That lives at the center of what we do. That’s going to be the most effective at getting people to come to Prime and stay with Prime. And then if something comes in and you feel that it’s best suited as a movie or miniseries, you can come [make] that too. It’s harder and more financially challenging to take the big swings than on TV shows, because the financial upside is so clear.”
Popular, award-winning shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will return. But seeing what’s coming up, you can’t help but feel their next bunch of shows will raise the bar when they hit screens in the foreseeable future. The following is a list of the series Amazon Studios has greenlit or put on a fast track since Salke came aboard, and I’m sure you’ll agree they’re enticing enough to warrant the price of a Prime subscription.
Produced by Jordan Peele, The Hunt follows a group of Nazi hunters in 1970s New York City. After discovering that hundreds of high ranking members of Hitler’s goon squad are conspiring to create a Fourth Reich in the US, the team makes it their mission to put a stop to their genocidal plans. And they don’t mind getting bloody in order to achieve their goal, either.
The Lord of the Rings
This one was in development prior to Salke joining the company, but since her appointment, the J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation has been a priority project. Under Salke’s supervision, Amazon hopes to have their Middle-Earth adventure on our screens in 2021. And they’re going big as well — The Lord of the Rings is expected to cost $500 million to make, which will make it the most expensive show in history. Let’s hope it lives up to the whopping price tag and eases the concerns of fans who fear the latest incarnation misses the point of Middle-Earth.
A remake of a controversial UK show of the same name, this project had been gestating for a while before Salke greenlit it. David Fincher was involved at one point, but that ultimately fizzled out. Earlier this year, however, Gone Girl scribe Gillian Flynn was hired to bring the show to life as part of her overall deal with the studio. The story follows a group of people who incur the wrath of a shadowy deep state organization after discovering a conspiracy theory involving a graphic novel. The original series caused a shit storm in the UK after featuring a school massacre in one episode. That said, I don’t expect Flynn’s take on the material to be tame by any means.
The Underground Railroad
Based on Colson Whitehead’s award-winning novel of the same name, The Underground Railroad follows a slave who breaks out of a Deep South plantation to pursue freedom. This leads her on a frightening journey throughout America as she tries to evade a slave catcher of mythic origin. Every episode of the limited series will be directed by Moonlight helmer Barry Jenkins, so don’t be surprised if this becomes a contender for best show of the year when it hits our screens in 2019.
Genre and YA shows are reportedly high on Salke’s list of future programming plans, and this animated series from The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman ticks those boxes. Invincible, which is based on his own comic of the same name, follows a teenager whose dad just happens to be the most powerful superhero in the world. When the kid turns 17, he inherits superpowers of his own and enters the family business.
Wheel of Time
We’ve already discussed why we think this could be Amazon’s flagship show for years to come. If the series lives up to the splendor of its source material, this adaptation of Robert Jordan‘s epic fantasy saga really could be long-lasting and special. It’s no secret that the streaming service has been looking to capitalize on the Game of Thrones craze with their own adult fantasy fare. Therefore, adapting one of the most popular works to ever emerge from the genre is a great way to show they mean business.
The latest from Lena Waithe (producer of The Chi and Dear White People) explores the horrors of 1950s America — both real and supernatural. The story centers around a black family living in an all-white Los Angeles neighborhood hoping for new beginnings. However, their seemingly pleasant surroundings are actually a hotbed of malevolent forces and terrible neighbors. According to Waithe, the show will look at “how frightening it was to be black in 1953” while serving as a reminder that “being black in 2018 is just as horrifying.”
Another notable producer to sign a first-look deal with the studio was Nicole Kidman. Her production company, Blossom Studios, will be working closely with Amazon going forward. Their first collaboration together will be this drama series based on Janice Y.K. Lee’s acclaimed novel, which revolves around a group of female expats living in Hong Kong. Kidman describes the project as “delicious,” so expect something tasty.
Amazon also understands the importance of romantic comedy and inspiring faith in humanity. Modern Love, which is inspired by the long-running New York Times column, is an anthology series about love and human connection. That includes all forms of love as well — romantic, sexual, familial, self, etc. Salke hopes that Modern Love will be the next big show that “women can’t stop talking about.” This has heartwarming written all over it, and we need that sometimes.
Tales from the Loop
The projects we’ve discussed so far are mostly based on literary source material. But that’s not the only medium that Amazon has mined for content. An illustration by Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag has also inspired its own dramatic series. Tales from the Loop, from executive producer Matt Reeves, takes place in a town that’s connected to “The Loop,” a machine designed to unlock the mysteries and secrets of the universe. This one will appeal to fans of heady, thought-provoking science fiction.
Salke and Greg Daniels have worked together in the past on The Office and Parks and Recreation. Therefore, it was a no-brainer for the studio to place a series order for his new sci-fi comedy. The acclaimed showrunner’s latest is a future-set sitcom about a dead guy who’s uploaded to virtual reality following his untimely death. That sounds like the coolest afterlife ever, and if Upload is as good as his previous comedies we’re all in for a treat.
Produced by Steven Spielberg and Amblin Television, Cortes chronicles the exploits of the legendary conqueror Hernan Cortes (played by Javier Bardem), who led a rebellious expedition to the heart of King Montezuma II’s Aztec empire during the early 16th century. The project was originally envisioned as a feature for Spielberg to direct a few years ago, but it is now a four-hour miniseries based on a script by Steven Zaillian. At the time of writing, no director is attached.
Due to the media’s sensationalization of the John and Lorena Bobbitt case, which saw the latter cut off the former’s penis, the factors that led to the castration are often overlooked. This new docu-series from Jordan Peele aims to explore the full story, though, and reframe the Bobbitts’ story around sexism and domestic violence. As Peele told Variety, “With this project, Lorena has a platform to tell her truth as well as engage in a critical conversation about gender dynamics, abuse, and her demand for justice. This is Lorena’s story and we’re honored to help her tell it.”
One way to compete with Netflix is to hire the masterminds behind one of their most popular shows. BoJack Horseman creators Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy have moved over to Amazon for Undone, a brand new animated series about a woman who discovers that she has a new relationship with time following a car accident. She then uses this new-found ability to learn the truth about her father’s death. Like their Netflix show, this will be a healthy mix of hilarious and depressing.
All the series mentioned above are merely the ones that have made some productive progress in recent months. But Amazon has many more projects in the early stages of development that could be headed our way in the near future. Some of the most anticipated include Conan the Barbarian and The Dark Tower, both of which are based on popular IPs. On top of those, we can expect original shows from Reed Morano and the Russo Brothers down the line as well. When Salke said she was committed to bringing in the best of the best, she wasn’t playing around.