‘Alpha House’ Creator Garry Trudeau: Amazon Wants to Rival HBO Originals

Garry Trudeau Alpha House Season 2
Maarten de Boer/Getty Images

Garry Trudeau, who has inked the politically charged “Doonesbury” comic strip since 1970, has found himself in the vanguard of over-the-top TV programming.

Trudeau’s “Alpha House,” a political satire starring John Goodman as a senator rooming with three other U.S. senators in a D.C. townhouse, was one of the first originals greenlit by Amazon Studios. The comedy was renewed after the first run hit last fall, and season two premiered Friday, Oct. 24, with Amazon releasing all 10 episodes.

“At the very beginning, they told us they wanted to compete directly with shows of HBO’s quality,” Trudeau, 66, said in an interview. “The follow-up question was, ‘Are you prepared to resource it at that level?’ And they were.”

While Trudeau declined to reveal the size of the productions, he said both seasons came in under budget. “There was never any need to go back to them (to ask for more money)… You do worry they’ll say, ‘Let’s do it for less,'” he said.

Of course, Amazon Studios has a long way to go before it can rival HBO or other premium cablers — or, at this stage, even Netflix — in terms of output or acclaim for its original TV shows.

From where he sits, Trudeau said Amazon stands apart from traditional studios and networks as far as its philosophical approach in giving creators latitude. His past TV projects include political spoof “Tanner ’88” for HBO with director Robert Altman.

“We were lightly supervised compared with other networks,” Trudeau said. “The experience has just been a joy and a privilege from start to finish — and I know it doesn’t always unfold like that.” It’s a sentiment echoed by indie filmmaker Jill Soloway, whose dramedy “Transparent” with Jeffrey Tambor debuted on Amazon in September.

Amazon, like Netflix, doesn’t disclose specific viewing metrics. But it’s worth noting that the studio picked up “Alpha House” for a second season based in part on its performance, whereas execs declined to renew “Betas,” the Silicon Valley comedy that was Amazon Studios’ other first entry into originals.

In “Alpha House” season two, Goodman (“Argo”), Mark Consuelos (“All My Children”), Clark Johnson (“The Wire”) and Matt Malloy (“Six Feet Under”) reprise their senatorial roles. At the outset, midterm elections loom with Senators Biggs (Goodman), Bettencourt (Johnson) and Laffer (Malloy) facing strong Democratic challengers while Sen. Guzman (Consuelos) preps for a 2016 presidential run.

Trudeau said that with eight months to create season 2 of “Alpha House,” he had a bit more time to develop larger story arcs and the pivots of the four main characters. The series, whose second-season debut was timed for the U.S.’s actual Nov. 4 midterm elections, is produced by Trudeau, Elliot Webb and Jonathan Alter.

“We had to carry them through the midterm election and through the conclusion of it,” he said.

So why is Guzman ramping up a bid for president? “He doesn’t really know the answer to that question,” Trudeau said. “He’s a candidate in search of a mission. He’s just fueled by an inordinate amount of ambition. He certainly wouldn’t be the first person to aspire to that office without a clear vision — although he does find his vision.”

Consuelos, for his part, found the second season “digs in deeper” into each of the characters. He said he relished playing Sen. Guzman again, who has a “wreck of a personal life” and mounts a presidential run with the backing of his billionaire Cuban girlfriend. “It’s too much fun for one actor to be allowed to have,” he said.

Catering to a politically wonky audience, “Alpha House” season two includes cameos from real-world political figures (as the first season also did). Those include former presidential adviser David Axelrod, U.S. Senators John McCain and Elizabeth Warren, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “This Week,” and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

“We tried to create moments (with political figures) where it was appropriate, not just stick them in the show to catch the eye,” Trudeau said.

“Alpha House” season two had the same production schedule as the freshman run, with five days to shoot each episode. Filming again took place primarily at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.

As for whether there’s a season 3 of “Alpha House,” that’s still yet to be determined. “We haven’t been told yet,” Trudeau said.

The second season of “Alpha House” joins other Amazon Studios originals available only to members of the e-commerce company’s Prime subscription service. Those include “Transparent” and three children’s series, “Tumble Leaf” from Bix Pix Entertainment; “Creative Galaxy” from Angela Santomero (“Blue’s Clues”); and “Annedroids” from Sinking Ship Entertainment.

In addition, Amazon Studios has six more original series in production. Those are Chris Carter’s supernatural thriller “The After”; Michael Connelly’s cop drama “Bosch”; “Hand of God” from Marc Forster and Ben Watkins; comedy “Mozart in the Jungle” from Paul Weitz, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Alex Timbers; comedy “Red Oaks” from Steven Soderbergh, David Gordon Green, Greg Jacobs and Joe Gangemi; and kids’ series “Wishenpoof!” from Santomero and “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street.” The studio also has greenlit a second season of “Transparent” for 2015.

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  1. Hoping, hoping, hoping there will be a season 3 of Alpha House. The dialogue and humor are brilliant and refreshing. I need a third season for coping. The series is better than aspirin, alcohol, chocolate or any other over the counter relief I can think of. Pretty please, renew this series!

  2. Cindy says:

    Just found Alpha House and watched season 1 & 2 in 3 days! Absolutely LOVED this show. Big fan of John Goodman and his 3 Senator buddies are fantastic. Very disappointed when I got to the end of season 2 and found there were no more seasons to watch. Best political satire I’ve seen in forever! Please bring us a season 3! You can’t just leave us hanging here!

  3. Beth Sommer says:

    Eagerly awaiting Season Three of Alpha House. Love the show thus far. Smart and funny, please continue.

  4. Sylina Siu says:

    Please bring back Alpha House for Season 3. I am hanging until I know if Robert is re-elected. John Goodman is as perfect an actor as ever. Consuelos is that politician you love to hate- narcissistic, power-driven, anything to win, in other words, today’s politician.

  5. vam says:

    where oh where is season 3 and season 4…………….this is a great show, please add it to your lineup

  6. Rhonda T says:

    Please, Please, Please continue the series Alpha House. Season 3,4,5,6 a must!!!!!!

  7. Mel says:

    You have to have a Season 3 of Alpha House, that show is the BOMB!!

  8. LuLu says:

    bring back alpha house

  9. Misti says:

    We just binged watched both seasons of Alpha House. OH MY GOSH. We have laughed our butts off. John Goodman is as usual, the best. The whole cast is fantastic. Better than regular TV….please renew this. We haven’t seen anything this funny in such a long time. Texas loves this show.

  10. Judy Coulter says:

    Loved both seasons of “Alpha House.” First thing I ever “binge-watched.” Felt that alone was worth the price of my Amazon Firestick. Hope there is a Season 3 in the works.

  11. Steve Ramos says:

    Even though this is a comedy, I still think it’s more realistic and less romanticized than Sorkin’s West Wing.

  12. Denece Vincent says:

    We sure hope there is a Season 3! And a Season 4 and 5 too. Alpha House is an entry to the political process for the uninvolved and a real hoot for those of us who pay attention!

  13. Eileen Nelson says:

    I hope there is a season three – LOVE Alpha House!

  14. T McLean says:

    Wonderful show. A funny version of something usually very serious and uptight. I very much look forward to this show and it could be the reason I keep my Prime subscription. I would like to see a little more edge to cut through the smoke and mirrors of Washington to reveal fault lines within parties and opportunities for something new… maybe a bit much to hope a TV show can offer a model for our democracy, but I will enjoy the laughs along the way.

  15. This series is without doubt the best and the most important new show in a long time . Please PLEASE Create a full year series so we can see a more developed set of characters. THANKS from a Boston amateur political junkey who has found this series the most fun and entertaining I have ever seen.

  16. Teresa says:

    This show is great, I’ve told so many people to watch this show. We definitely need season 3,4,5….. Please don’t keep us waiting!

  17. Lisa Chakalos says:

    We love Alpha House…..we need season 3. Best show on television….all the characters are perfect….John Goodman, Mark Consuelos, heck, the whole ensemble are fantastic. Please bring this back for seasons 3 and beyond!!

  18. Elaine says:

    Elaine H.
    Just bought Amazon Prime and viewed Seasons One and Two. I laughed so much in every single one. It’s satire but also pertinent to what’s going on right now. Please bring on Season 3.

  19. Gerry Brandt says:

    Alpha House seasons 1 and 2 have been both real and very funny in a crazy world where reality is sometimes depressing. Particularly entertaining is the interplay of polar opposites, both political and social forced by the cohabitation in the crazy DC environment. Even better, the characters, though ambitious, are basically kind, and well-meaning folks.
    Our house votes for a third season of Alpha House.

  20. I emailed people at work, “What a great country we live in such that the producers and writers of Alpha House do not disappear in the middle of the night”, (as in 3rd world countries). People came up and thanked me for letting them know about the series after they laughed so hard. I was surprised that Alpha House did not win several awards. Although Transparent was interesting, I found it sad instead of funny. I am hoping Amazon promotes Alpha House in the future to widen the audience. I just think once the word gets out, they will walk away with many awards.

  21. Felicia Speaks says:

    I am totally addicted. Please bring on Season 3 of Alpha Houae

  22. Todd Spangler, What an informative post, thanks! Meturato Schuyler

  23. suzie says:

    This show is fantastic-Great Cast. All equally as funny!
    (I wish this show was on tv-paying $100 to Amazon to watch 10 episodes is a lot.)
    Gary Trudeau is a talented writer and…When is the 3rd Season?


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