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Amazon Execs Talk Woody Allen, ‘Top Gear’ Trio and Why They Didn’t Save ‘Hannibal’

Amazon Studios’ top three programming execs told reporters Monday that they do not see themselves as being in the traditional TV business — a mindset that was reflected in a few awkward moments during the Q&A that closed out the streaming service’s presentations Monday at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour.

The execs emphasized that the on-demand nature of the Amazon Prime streaming service makes it imperative that their shows standalone as sought-after properties that generate buzz and social media chatter on their own, not as part of a traditional network schedule.

“We’re not really in the programming business,” Amazon Studios chief Roy Price said during the session with drama head Morgan Wandell and comedy head Joe Lewis. “That show that would get you from 8:30 to 9 — a goodish show. That has no value to us if it’s not going to be (someone’s) favorite show.”

Lewis added: “None of us are up here trying to make anyone’s third-favorite show.”

Price, who has spearheaded Amazon’s dive into original programming, said the model for Amazon is less about competing for eyeballs on any given night from rival TV services than pleasing returning customers.

“I think it’s more like the book business or the record business — you really just have to focus on customers and creators,” he said. “If you’re going to release a particular album don’t worry too much (about competition), you just worry about that album being fantastic.”

Price faced some tough questioning from reporters about the decision to cut a deal with the former “Top Gear” team of Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond for an automotive series to bow next year. Clarkson was fired from “Top Gear” earlier this year, and had a history of having to apologize for remarks deemed offensive by women and minorities. Price steadfastly ducked the question of whether he’d spoken to the threesome about such concerns.

“We feel very bullish that it’s going to be a very fun show that fans around the world are going to love,” he said of the unnamed series.

Woody Allen was another source of tension on the panel as reporters pressed Price on the decision to commission  a series from the filmmaker, given the decades-old allegations of child molestation levied by his daughter. Those charges made headlines again early last year when Allen was feted with the De Mille Award at the Golden Globe Awards, although the renewed controversy has not impeded his schedule of releasing one film a year, most recently July’s “Irrational Man.”

Woody Allen is one of the greatest filmmakers America has ever produced,” Price said. He added that he met with Allen  Friday to discuss plans to begin shooting the series late this year or in January for debut in the second half of next year.

Execs were also asked about whether they considered picking up “Hannibal” after the series was axed by NBC. Price said that generally speaking, they preferred to devote their resources to developing “a fantastic new signature show” rather than extending the life of an existing series. “Usually if you have an opportunity to pick up a show (from another outlet) it’s going to be a marginally solid show,” Price said, although he emphasized that he was not referring to “Hannibal” specifically but the factors that are considered when an established show becomes available for new episodes. “We are not in the solid-outcome business,” he added.

Wandell acknowledged that a consideration in the case of “Hannibal” was the fact that series creator/exec producer Bryan Fuller has committed to the Starz drama “American Gods,” which probably meant he would not be able to focus on new “Hannibal” segs for as much as a year.

Amazon Prime is accelerating its output of originals starting Sept. 4 with the launch of vigilante drama “Hand of God,” starring Ron Perlman and Dana Delany. It also has two drama pilots bowing on Friday, “Sneaky Pete” (originally produced for CBS) and “Casanova,” that will go through Amazon’s trademark crowdsourcing process of viewer reviews and ratings to determine whether they will receive series orders.

The Amazon trio defended the practice of not revealing detailed viewership stats on Amazon series, as is the case with the other streaming heavyweights, Netflix and Hulu.

“Internally we talk about the quality of the shows 100 times more than the numbers,” Lewis said.

Earlier in the day, Price noted that detective drama “Bosch” ranks Amazon Prime’s most-watched series in the U.S. and the U.K.

Price didn’t elaborate on the volume of streams generated by “Bosch.” But he did use the series, which stars Titus Welliver as an L.A.-based gumshoe, to make a joke in his opening remarks that underscores the sea change in TV viewing during the past few years.

“I’m here to tell you we’ve moved ‘Bosch’ to Wednesday at 10,” he said during the presentation at the Beverly Hilton. “Just kidding! You can see it anytime. It’s your schedule that matters.”

Price recounted the “significant progress” that Amazon has made in the two-plus years since the service unveiled its first batch of 14 pilots in April 2013. Of the 49 pilots for kids and adult programs unveiled since then, 17 have gone to series. Amazon made kudos history in January when “Transparent” won the Golden Globe for best comedy or music series.

Amazon is a contender in this year’s Emmy derby with 11 noms for “Transparent,” the most for any comedy series, and one for “Bosch” (for main title design).

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