Jeffrey Tambor
Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images

Amazon’s new original drama “Transparent” will debut on Amazon Prime in late September, creator Jill Soloway announced Saturday at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour.

All ten episodes of the series will premiere at once through Amazon Prime Instant Video, in the so-called “binge” model popularized by Netflix. Decisions have not yet been made on the exact airdates or delivery models for a number of Amazon’s other new original series, which may debut weekly or in one block like “Transparent.” Returning comedy “Alpha House” will debut in October, “Mozart in the Jungle” will premiere in December, and “The After” and “Bosch” will premiere early 2015. “The After” will be released on a weekly basis.

“Transparent” centers around an LA family with serious boundary issues who have their past and future unravel when a dramatic admission causes everyone’s secrets to spill out. It stars Jeffrey Tambor, Gaby Hoffman, Amy Landecker, Rob Huebel, Judith Light, Henry Simmons and Jay Duplass.

“We’ve never looked at ['Transparent'] as anything but a continuous piece of five-hour entertainment,” said Joe Lewis, Amazon Studios’ Head of Original Programming, at the TCA panel. “I don’t think of it as binging, I just think of it as a five-hour movie.”

The cast and creator were vehement that they don’t consider the Amazon series a step-down from traditional TV platforms — if anything, Hoffman said, they’ve had more freedom on “Transparent” than their previous projects, and their pay is comparable to broadcast network rates.

“This notion that we’re making some sort of sacrifice by working for Amazon [is incorrect] … I would’ve done this for no money,” Hoffman insisted. “This is a privilege, working with Joe and Amazon … they are our allies and supporters and cheerleaders. They’re letting this show be what we want it to be and need to be.”

Tambor agreed that Amazon’s creative line-up — which includes “Mozart in the Jungle” producers Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, and “The After’s” Chris Carter — are “heavy hitters” in the entertainment industry, so actors and producers are simply going where the strongest content is.

Lewis said that Amazon Studios’ two tenets in terms of content creation are to “take the best, smartest creators and get out of their way, and to listen to the audience. I don’t think of it as our job to dictate what the show is, that’s up to Jill… Our goal was to preserve an individual voice.”

While Lewis confirmed that all of Amazon’s original series will be available on DVD and Blu-ray eventually, he also emphasized that the shows will be available “in perpetuity” for as long as viewers are members of Amazon Prime. The streaming service does not release viewership numbers, and Lewis admitted that “as a company I don’t think we’re particularly concerned with whether you watch on television or your kindle or on Thursday night or Saturday… I think it’s short-term to think about how many viewers watch on a given night.” Amazon’s priority, Lewis said, is creating something that subscribers enjoy. “For us, character and story is more important.”

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read on if you have yet to watch the pilot of Amazon’s “Transparent” — plot details to follow.

 

The show undoubtedly tackles subject matter that most traditional networks would never consider, something that appealed to the cast. Star Jeffrey Tambor admitted that “this is the most transformative experience I’ve had [professionally], and it also shows how far television has come in terms of content … I feel very honored in bringing forth this whole subject.”

Tambor plays Mort, a divorced father of three adult children, who is beginning the process of transitioning to life as a woman. While Soloway admits that casting such a role might have been complicated, since Moira hasn’t yet transitioned and is starting that journey in earnest when the show begins — and that she would’ve considered a trans woman, trans man, cis woman or cis man to play Mort — she always envisioned Tambor in the role, and was grateful that he was open to taking on the character. “Jeffrey was Mort, to become Moira — he just was… It was just intuitive.”

Soloway said the concept of the show came to her “fully formed,” and she was inspired by the idea of subverting the classic Disney trope of a parent dying and their children dealing with that loss in their own quest for identity. Soloway said she loved the idea of exploring “what it meant to mourn a parent as a new parent is being born.”

“As a feminist, I think a lot about how, as a culture, there are patriarchal wounds and matriarchal wounds,” Soloway observed. She approached the show as a way to explore the concept of a “wounded father being replaced by a blossoming femininity” and noted that transgender issues are “in the zeitgeist in a great way that makes us think we’re pointing in the right direction.”

Soloway also hopes to explore gender issues in a more nuanced and realistic way than most broadcast networks allow, and wasn’t too concerned about whether her main characters came across as “unlikable.”

“The people who I believe in the most create work about people who are real… I think when people see truth in art, it resonates,” she said, pointing out that that she was often tasked with “creating rootable women or likable women” when creating TV shows for broadcast networks. Soloway said that “the rules about what women would do are super antiquated” on television, and after growing tired of hearing that “no woman would ever do that,” she was excited to tackle realistic and flawed characters.

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