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Amazon Gains Ground With Online-Only Shows


Amazon has announced that it signed Woody Allen to write and direct his first ever television series. The online retailer made news earlier this week at the Golden Globes when it became the first digital streaming service to win a series award as best TV comedy for its show, "Transparent." Here to talk with us about what all this means for Amazon and the world of television is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, welcome back.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey. How are you doing?

BLOCK: Good. What more can you tell us about Woody Allen's new show?

DEGGANS: Well, not much, as it turns out. We know they're going to be half-hour episodes. There's a sense that it's going to premiere in 2016. But we don't have many other details. There's not a title. Even Woody doens't - says he does not know what the concept is. But it's important to note why they're working with him. He is arguably the greatest living filmmaker who isn't doing TV. We've seen Martin Scorsese do "Boardwalk Empire." We've seen Stephen Soderbergh do "The Knick" for Cinemax. We've seen David Fincher do "House of Cards" for Netflix. And now Woody Allen, who is also considered kind of an old-school filmmaker, is entering into this new, emerging world of original series for streaming television, and that's a very interesting move.

BLOCK: Woody Allen also said in his statement, I have no ideas and I'm not sure where to begin. Do you think you think he's being disingenuous there or do you take him at his word on that?

DEGGANS: He's probably being a little disingenuous. I mean, people who have followed Woody's career know that he kind of plays up the befuddled, you know, nerd kind of image that he's had as a comic sometimes. But he's also a very smart and very talented filmmaker. It would be hard to imagine Amazon spending the kind of money they've got to be spending to get him without having some sense of the story that he's going to tell. But, given his reputation, and his history as a filmmaker, it's hard to imagine that he would agree to a deal if he didn't have some passion for a story that he can't tell in a smaller film but could tell in a larger series.

BLOCK: Woody Allen, of course, is a controversial figure, especially after the allegations by his adopted daughter that he sexually abused her. How much of a risk is this for Amazon?

DEGGANS: It seems like it might be a significant one. Even when the announcement came out there was lots of talk on social media - especially on twitter - people comparing him to Bill Cosby. And we saw Bill Cosby lose a series deal with NBC. We saw Comedy Central decide not to air a comedy special they had taped in his honor. If the backlash - if that that chatter grows against Woody Allen, it's possible Amazon may have to reconsider what they're doing in some way. But right now it seems as if people are reacting differently to Woody Allen, in part because he has directly addressed these allegations - directly denied them. He's written a commentary for the New York Times, for example, where he laid out his case as to why it's an unfair accusation. So the situations are a little different, but I think they will have to do some damage control and the question is, can he do press? Can he talk to people like me about the TV show knowing that we're going to ask about those allegations? All of those are questions that have yet to be answered.

BLOCK: Eric, you've spent the last week or so in Los Angeles at the Television Critics Association Press Tour - critics from all around the country gathering to see what the networks have in store. What's the buzz on Amazon right now?

DEGGANS: Well, it's interesting. Before the Golden Globes win, I think people thought that Amazon didn't quite know how to do original series television. People liked "Transparent." But their previous series didn't get people as excited. They had a show called "Mozart In The Jungle" that they released right before Christmas at a time when they couldn't get a lot of press, when people were focused on Christmas and were not going to pay attention to a new digital streaming series. And we were saying, do they really know how to launch show? Well, now, "Trasparent" has gotten a lot of attention. Now they've announced this deal with Woody Allen. And there's this sense that they are now players in this field in a way that they weren't before. And they might actually be an equal to Netflix or HBO in a way that they weren't before.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, thanks so much.

DEGGANS: All right. Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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