MONTE CARLO, Monaco – Roy Price, global head of content for Amazon Prime Video, loves author F. Scott Fitzgerald. That’s key to the tone of “The Last Tycoon,” the big-budget series that debuts on Amazon on July 28 after a successful pilot run last year.
Originally developed for HBO by writer-director Billy Ray and showrunner Christopher Keyser, the nine-episode show, based on the final unfinished novel by the author of “The Great Gatsby,” found a home at Amazon after HBO passed on the project. Since then, Price has been crucial to the extent to which the novel is reflected in the series.
“HBO was saying, ‘We are not even sure we want to call this “The Last Tycoon” anymore. We don’t know that we are getting an advantage by referencing a Fitzgerald novel that is that old,'” Keyser said at the Monte Carlo Television Festival, where “Tycoon” is launching in Europe.
“Whereas Roy Price at Amazon said, ‘No, we love Fitzgerald. We love the ideas behind this novel. We love the romance of the movies. Focus on that,'” Keyser said.
Inspired by the life of 1930s movie mogul Irving Thalberg, the novel’s protagonist is Monroe Stahr, played by Matt Bomer, who comes into conflict with onetime mentor and current studio head Pat Brady, played by Kelsey Grammer, whose character is based on Louis B. Mayer.
Bomer, who is in Monte Carlo, said that the central aspect of his character “is his obsession with legacy. Everything is centered around legacy and putting his stamp [on movies] and trying to achieve some immortality.”
Grammer noted that, to get into character of Brady, he drew upon a line in a book about Columbia Pictures co-founder Henry Cohn that said “he liked gangsters, and kind of liked to talk like one.”
Keyser, a former Writers Guild of America West president whose producer credits include “Party of Five” and “Tyrant,” said his experience working for Amazon for the first time was in many ways no different from working for other networks.
“They want to see scripts in the same way, and even though they stream everything all at once, we deliver episodes mostly one at a time,” he said. However, there was the advantage of “the flexibility of having some more money to spend,” even though “we always had to make decisions about where we could spend and where we couldn’t.
“It was never a ‘Whatever you want goes,'” Keyser added, declining to reveal the show’s budget.
Amazon’s democratized pilot testing process, which allows the public to give a thumbs up or down to various series’ pilot episodes, was a bit grueling though rewarding in the end, Keyser said.
“That’s a weird world in which you sit and watch those numbers, and you are waiting for a couple of months, and you don’t know” if the series is going to get greenlit, he noted.
Lag times these days can be much longer, and the whole television business production cycle has changed with the arrival of streaming services like Amazon and Netflix.
“The days of finishing up your last episode two days before it aired, and delivering the show and watching while you are producing, and getting information back [from focus groups] while you are doing that, is obviously all gone now,” Keyser said.
“Now we just make something in a kind of a vacuum and we send it all out into the world to find out how people feel. So that’s quite different.”