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Amazon’s Animated Pilots Are A Big Disappointment

Last Friday, Amazon released 14 pilots on their online streaming service in the latest bid by an Internet company to unseat network TV and cable. Of the shows, six pilots are geared towards children (five of which are either animated or partially animated), and eight are geared toward adults (two of which are animated).

As part of a gimmicky marketing strategy, Amazon is soliciting feedback from viewers to help them decide which shows should be turned into series. Judging from the pilots though, traditional TV execs have little to worry about—at least for now. I can’t speak for the live-action shows, but the animated series are half-baked concepts that are a few notches below any of the successful shows on children’s cable. (How does something called Creative Galaxy even make it past a pitch stage?)

Roy Price, the executive in charge of Amazon Originals, is a former Disney TV animation exec so there is little excuse for the unpolished, amateur feel of these animation pilots. And just to be clear, amateur is not referring to the fact that the animated projects are presented in animatic format, although one could question the wisdom of unveiling a new studio to the general public in such a clumsy manner. But even fully-animated pilots woudn’t mask the conceptual flaws in most these shows.

One could conjecture about why Amazon botched their pilots so badly, but the LA Times article about their pilot program offers a big clue. In that article, Price touts that they used Amazon rental and viewership data to help them decide what pilots they should produce.

[Roy] Price describes Amazon Studios’ process as a hybrid, that draws from elements of old and new media. It used the service’s rental and viewing history to identify the shows that resonate with its customers, and which new ones might hold the greatest appeal.

The popularity of scripted dramas such as PBS’ period drama Downton Abbey and HBO’s Sex and the City suggested some viewers are attracted to shows with depth, where the characters confront important life choices, Price said.

Viewership of FX’s animated sitcom Archer and the stop-motion animation Cartoon Network series Robot Chicken hint at a clump of interest around another kind of program, Price said. Meanwhile, frequently watched children’s programs, including Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer and Blue’s Clues, suggest another opportunity.

Of course, you don’t need access to customers’ rental histories to know that all of the shows Price listed are popular with audiences. More tellingly, however, it indicates that Price and his Amazon colleagues have little vision or strategy for what they’re trying to accomplish with Amazon Studios beyond creating poorly conceived knock-offs of popular TV shows. If this isn’t evident from the methods they’re using to decide what shows to make, the resulting pilots make that fact painfully clear.

These are the official descriptions of their seven animated pilots:

Supanatural is an animated comedy series about two outspoken divas who are humanity’s last line of defense against the supernatural — when they’re not working at the mall. The series was written by Lily Sparks, Price Peterson and Ryan Sandoval, and the pilot was produced by Jason Micallef (Butter) and Kristen Schaal (The Daily Show).

Dark Minions
Written by Big Bang Theory co-stars Kevin Sussman and John Ross Bowie, Dark Minions is an animated workplace series about two slackers working on an intergalactic warship and just trying to make a paycheck.

Annebots revolves around Anne, a young scientist who creates three robot helpers to assist her scientific experiments in the back of her dad’s junkyard. This science-based series from creator J.J. Johnson (Dino Dan, This is Emily Yeung) aims to introduce kids to science and technology in a fun, new way.

Creative Galaxy
Creative Galaxy is an animated interactive art adventure series designed to inspire kids’ creative thinking through crafts, story, music and dance. The series was created by Angela Santomero, creator of Super Why!, the Emmy-nominated literacy series, Blue’s Clues and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

Positively Ozitively
In this problem-solving series, Dot, Dorothy’s daughter, goes off to Oz every day with the children of the characters from Frank Baum’s classic book, The Wizard of Oz. In each episode, the yellow brick road leads Dot to a new magical location where she solves problems alongside her Oz friends.

Sara Solves It
Sara Solves It was created by Emmy winner Carol Greenwald (Curious George) and Emmy nominee Angela Santomero (Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Super Why!, Blue’s Clues), who also serve as executive producers of the show. Viewers follow brother and sister duo Sara and Sam on absorbing and relatable mysteries that spring from the questions young children encounter in their daily lives. Each mystery is an interactive, math-based puzzle that viewers can solve with Sara and Sam.

Tumbleaf was created by Drew Hodges and Bix Pix Entertainment, an award-winning stop-motion studio. The series, aimed at preschoolers, is set in a whimsical land where a small blue fox named Fig plays each day and discovers adventure, friendship and love around every bend in the path. The narratives aim to foster play through exploration and scientific thinking.