Amazon Invests In Woody Allen

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 14 2015 @ 5:51pm

James Poniewozik ponders the new deal:

Allen agreeing to make a TV series for anyone would have been big news in itself a few years ago. But now, after last year’s renewal of charges that the director sexually abused his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow when she was a child—charges Allen has long denied—it’s going to be a lightning rod. The re-emergence of rape accusations by many women against Bill Cosby was evidently enough last year to scuttle preliminary plans for him to return with a sitcom for NBC, even though he continues to deny them. Maybe Amazon feels that Allen’s circumstances are different, or that the blowback will be worth taking. But it’s hard to imagine there won’t be blowback; as many fans as Allen may still have, we saw around last year’s Oscars that there are legions who will view this deal as rewarding a predator.

Jessica Goldstein wonders, “Why do repeated accusations of rape just bounce off some beloved figures and burn others to the ground?” Among her theories:

Our collective vision of Bill Cosby was that of a warm father, the Jell-o pudding man. His crimes feel personal to the viewers who love him, who grew up on The Cosby Show, thinking of him as the Platonic ideal of a dad. Audiences feel betrayed on an intimate level, like they were sold a false bill of goods. And so the dismantling of Cosby’s myth, though it was many, many years in the making, was ultimately quick.

Allen’s public persona has never relied on the same mainstream appeal. He is, in the eyes of even his most ardent fans, a bit of weirdo; his self-aware awkwardness is essential to his shtick.

Momentarily putting aside the abuse allegations, Todd VanDerWerff asks, “Why on Earth did Amazon want to make a TV series with Woody Allen?”:

The writer/director has shown no real affection for the medium, even though he got his start in show business writing for it. He’s made some solid-to-great films in the last decade, sure, but TV requires a very different skill set, one Allen doesn’t particularly possess.

Yet there he is. And the answer for why Amazon wants to be in business with him is the dark flip side of my argument for why ratings increasingly don’t matter to niche outfits. When all a network cares about is media buzz and potential awards attention, then it’s easy enough to pre-game that system by signing big names who will generate buzz by virtue of having big names.

Alyssa Rosenberg views the deal as “proof that even the companies that want to lead us into pop culture’s future are anxiously looking over their shoulders back at the past”:

Rather than elevating new voices, as Amazon did previously with filmmaker Jill Soloway and her groundbreaking series “Transparent,” a Woody Allen television show feels like insurance. It’s an attempt to get his existing fans to sample Amazon’s streaming offerings, rather than as proof that Amazon can do things other outlets can’t. …

Maybe Amazon has bought itself the next “Blue Jasmine,” or “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” or “Match Point,” all of which stand among Allen’s better projects in recent years. Or maybe the streaming service will end up with his latest “Scoop” or “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.” As of this writing, Allen apparently has no idea what story he wants to tell, and Amazon seems to be okay with that, as long as Allen can fit the company into his already frenetic schedule, which has produced such uneven results.

David Sims remarks that “Amazon’s motive in signing Allen up for his first TV series is a smart one—as online studios further fracture the TV landscape, the value of a well-known brand is crucial.” But he still sees the series as a major risk for Amazon:

Will the viewer boost outweigh whatever hit Amazon’s prestige might take? It’s hard to say. Thinkpieces will undoubtedly flood the Internet, but despite the chilling nature of Dylan Farrow’s public letter, when actors who worked with Allen were asked about it, they mostly referred to the matter as a complicated family issue too sensitive to wade into, and the furor eventually died down. Other networks have worked with unappealing creative personnel without really harming their brand—FX gave accused serial domestic abuser Charlie Sheen 100 episodes of Anger Management in 2012, but remains best-known for highly praised original programming like Louie, The Americans and Justified.