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:

ADULT COMEDY SERIES
Supanatural
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.

KIDS’ PILOTS
Annebots
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
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.


  • jhalpernkitcat

    “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.”

    I’m going to try not to envision how some of those characters had children. Sorry, I know Oz is a magical world, but it still won’t keep me from questioning how two scarecrows or two people made of tin have children.

    • JackONeal

      Mitosis

    • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.crowther.5 Sarah Crowther

      Plus a show where Dorothy has a daughter named Dot was already done (Oz Kids).

  • Natalie Belton

    All of these sound cliche and uninspired. Not to mention the animation itself is rather ugly.

  • Animator606432

    So I totally understand the pilots sucking, but are streaming services really trying to compete with cable? Isn’t it the other way around?

    • Remarkable Kanoodle

      /cough/ Netflix streaming /cough/

      About 8 bucks a month right now with lots of animation options and you don’t have to pay for the E! channel to get it.

    • http://twitter.com/SarahJesness SarahJesness

      Not really. Cable is still doing well, if you want to watch the shows right away, you have to see them on TV.

      • OtherDan

        Until Amazon makes competitive shows, that is. It’s a matter of time before they disrupt the Force. Cable channels are conforming to them-not the other way around.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.persing Stephen Persing

    Dark Minions sounds like the live action web series Space Janitors, which is now in it’s second season.

  • Trok

    DID NO ONE READ THE DISCLAIMER IN FRONT OF THE VIDEO? Or did people just skip around to rage on work that was already said to be unfinished. While some of this is pretty generic concept wise, there is actually some nice storyboard work, and Annebots looks promising.

    • http://twitter.com/SarahJesness SarahJesness

      I at least expect some moderately good writing. You know, a couple funny jokes here and there. (note: I just checked out the adult shows and I’m having a hard time sitting through them…)

  • Alex

    Well, you gave a negative review to Regular Show and Bob’s Burgers when they premiered as well, so I’m just going to give it a chance.

    • AmidAmidi

      I never reviewed either of those shows, but feel free to make things up.

  • http://twitter.com/JeffyGardner Jeffrey Gardner

    what ev’s with pilots.. here is some entertainment.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwneyE44eE4

    • http://www.facebook.com/julian.ducharme Jason Cezar Duncan

      I think you’re looking for Adult Swim.

  • jmahon

    The internet is teeming with young artists or artists who are ready to branch off into their own projects… and they seem to be making these pilots FOR amazon’s new channel. Why not find someone with an idea that they love and that has been made from the heart instead of saying “ok, team, we need some kids shows, what can we brainstorm”?

    • http://www.facebook.com/julian.ducharme Jason Cezar Duncan

      AMEN!

  • Jason

    Tons of talented indie people to be found here and other animation sites trying to get business, meanwhile Amazon’s releasing this crud. The preschool ones I really can’t speak on because that’s a very different playing field but the adult ones I speculate this. They were created by writers, not creators. A creator is the one who is supposed have the whole general idea and, how should I say, “get the ball rolling” on things. The writer is supposed to be the one who creatively fills in what the creator falls flat on. And both are supposed to sort of play “tug-o-war” with the executives so they can do it to their way as much as possible. The creator is supposed to have a good feel for cartoons and animation and the writer it can depend on what type of show one’s doing. What I’m guessing here is you’re getting people who are probably very talented in writing but have absolutely no feel for cartoons/animation being asked to create “this type of show” for “this type of thing” and doing it as side/vanity project they really couldn’t care for it’s not getting “hits”. And it’s not the first time we’ve seen something like this either. Need I mention Allen Gregory?

  • mick

    Times have changed. Hedging bets rarely leads to success.

  • Ryan

    “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.”

    This is interesting because the strategy you describe is the exact same one Netflix is using for their original programming. “House of Cards” came about because “Kevin Spacey movies,” “David Fincher movies,” and “political thrillers” were popular search terms.

    Whether or not that is an artistically sound decision is for the viewer to decide, of course…

    • http://twitter.com/TheChristianKaw Christian Kaw

      Really? Last I heard Spacey and Fincher tried to sell the show to other networks, and Netflix was the only one that gave them the best deal, with full creative control.

      • http://www.facebook.com/julian.ducharme Jason Cezar Duncan

        From what I gather, Netflix pretty much did what cable networks do and did it better. The series was independently created (well, adapted from a UK version) and being pitched around and Netflix found it was most compatible in the sense there was nothing like it in the US, it’s an HBO/ Showtime/A&E type show, and there was interest of the public to see something like it based on research of searched things. Then, they took a risk in green lighting it with the creators/writers having full control, something most channels are reluctant to do nowadays, and it turned out to be a success. Amazon, from what I gather, is asking writers and actors who have simply had some connection to some famous show to make “a show like it” and it’s just being done so cheaply and artistically void.

  • http://www.dennedy.org/ Dan Dennedy

    Wow, how is asking customers and consumers their opinion considered “gimmicky marketing strategy”?

    • AmidAmidi

      Because it creates the illusion of choice for consumers, even though there’s a limited number of preselected choices. Further, it’s not a transparent process, and there’s no indication of what other factors Amazon will use to determine what gets greenlit for production besides consumer feedback.

  • LaserGuided WhiteHaus

    “have little vision or strategy for what they’re trying to accomplish
    with… (X studios)…beyond creating poorly conceived knock-offs of
    popular TV shows”….aw c’mon, I’ve been in the animation business for 20 years, and this excerpt from the article above might as well be the animation-business’ mantra. The writer’s posture of astonishment at the near-complete lack of substance evinced by these pilots is a hollow simulation in itself. Get real everybody; that’d be a good place to start.

  • http://twitter.com/SarahJesness SarahJesness

    Is it so much to ask for some good animated shows aimed at adults? Why are those so hard to find? I mean, a few do exist, and there are plenty of good adult live action shows and good children’s cartoons, so it really shouldn’t be THAT difficult.

    • Rafi L

      I don’t get the animated shows aimed at adults concept of saving humanity. Sounds like total garbage. Adults need animation that speaks to everyday situations of course in a humorous way, not some super hero/divas crap.

      • SarahJesness

        Eh, I think adult animation can work for both fantastic and mundane situations. I love “King of the Hill” but I also love “Futurama”. It all depends on the writing.

  • OtherDan

    I wonder if Mad Men came about because of F’d up algorithms designed to bubble up public sentiments. I highly doubt that databases will reliably predict viability. We need creatives in charge-people who can use their knowledge and instincts to produce gems.

  • Michael

    I’m confused why they’re calling them pilots when they’re pretty much animatics. A pilot to me is at least a stand alone completed short. It’s almost like they’re saying they believe so much in the project, but they’re not willing to put forth the effort and give the public a finished piece. Oh well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jimmy-McKee/100000472580937 Jimmy McKee

    I like Tumbleaf’s pilot

    • T. King

      Me too. I’d actually like to see that get made.