Peter Kafka

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Amazon Shows Off Its First TV Shows, and Wants to Know What You Think

This is the time of the year when the TV networks show off the programs they’ll be running next fall, via glitzy invitation-only presentations for advertisers.

But you can see what Jeff Bezos has in store for his viewers, right now, over at

And he wants to know what you think.

As promised, Amazon has put up 14 pilot episodes for shows it is considering producing for its first foray into original programming — eight comedies and six kids’ shows. It wants viewers to rate them, and says it will use their input as it figures out which ones to actually order.

Right now you have to navigate over to Amazon’s video section to find the shows, but I imagine that Amazon will make a much bigger deal of them fairly soon. (Perhaps after a breaking news story resolves itself.)

Amazon isn’t promising that viewer voting alone will make or break a show. But their feedback will be “very influential” as Amazon makes it decisions in the next couple months, says Roy Price, who is heading up Amazon’s original video program.

After Price and his group make their calls, the shows will eventually be available only for Amazon Prime members, just like other videos in its on-demand subscription service. But anyone can watch the pilots, and anyone can vote.

In other words: This is sort of a novelty, designed to generate attention for Amazon’s programming, and a counterpoint to the way Netflix has gone about its original marketing, where it has preordered up full seasons of shows like “House of Cards” before ever showing them to the outside world.

And it’s also indicative of the way Amazon would like to go about making programming decisions down the road — some of it will come from old-fashioned gut calls about what might be good, and some of it will take advantage of the data that a Web player can aggregate and create.

So, what about the videos themselves? Take a look for yourself.

I previewed several of them, and found the standout to be “Alpha House,” a Washington comedy starring John Goodman, created by Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau. It’s the one that seems most TV-like in terms of production value and star power (look for a Bill Murray cameo). And I get the sense that it’s the one Amazon is most excited about, as well.

Other videos don’t seem nearly as polished as the stuff you’d see at a conventional TV “upfront” presentation — most of the animated shows, for starters, are unfinished. But it’s also important to remember that the TV guys have years of experience making their stuff look incredibly compelling — and the overwhelming majority of the shows they promote in the spring are canceled within a year.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work