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Amazon gets ready for prime time

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The online superstore is about to add a new title to its long list of specialties: TV network. Last year, the retailer greenlit 12 pilots, including six children’s series and six comedies. It plans to debut them all simultaneously this spring on a yet-to-be-determined date. ”My hope is that people find something in the shows that they want to see more of,” says Amazon Studios director Roy Price, who explains that the push to produce was largely fueled by a desire to give Amazon Prime members more exclusive content. (Members pay an annual fee for faster shipping and instant access to some video.) The programming slate features a host of buzzy projects, including Alpha House, a political series starring John Goodman about senators who share a D.C. town house; the media comedy Onion News Empire, from the writers of The Onion; and the musical comedy Browsers, about interns at a Huffington Post-esque site. ”It’s exciting to feel like you’re helping set a precedent not only for the show but for an entire network, or quasi-network,” says Browsers creator David Javerbaum, a former Daily Show exec producer who took his pilot to Amazon after CBS passed on it.

Amazon isn’t alone in creating content. Hulu is expanding its original-series slate this summer with Seth Meyers’ animated series The Awesomes, among others. And Netflix recently had success with its Kevin Spacey drama House of Cards and will premiere 14 new episodes of the beloved comedy Arrested Development in May, as well as a new horror series exec-produced by Eli Roth, Hemlock Grove, in April. So far, the main distinction between Amazon and its competitors is that Amazon plans to use viewer feedback to help determine which pilots get a full-season order. The rest of the specifics — like whether it will launch an entire season at once, as Netflix is doing — are still being worked out.

Jeffrey Tambor, who’s starring on Arrested for Netflix and Onion News Empire for Amazon, says he was struck by the potential for online programming while promoting Arrested‘s return at the National Association of Broadcasters convention last year. ”I remember saying to myself, ‘The revolution isn’t coming, it’s here,”’ he says. ”This is just the beginning.”

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