This past year, Amazon decided to get into the original programming game with their Instant Video service to compete with other online streamers who have been doing the same like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and more. And they came up with what I thought was a very sensible approach which involved putting the pilots for several shows out for people to view (you can check out all of their offerings at this link) and giving them the chance to vote on which ones they want to continue as ongoing series.
Seemed like a pretty decent idea to me. For once, the viewers are calling the shots. They are acting the part of the network executives and making the decisions on which entries from among the pilot offerings will go to series. Only instead of just a small number of people who appear to be disconnected from the average viewer (and we would all agree way out of touch with the average sci fi viewer), this time it is the people themselves who will be watching the pilots and voting en masse for which shows get the greenlight to a TV series. Seems like the ideal way for episodic programming to prosper through grassroots support.
Yeah . . . seems that way. But it didn’t work out so great for the Zombieland series that was hoping to have a run as one of the Amazon Originals, but instead got “hated out of existence” by the fans.
That series was designed as a continuation of the successful (and much beloved) feature film, though it had different actors assuming the roles of the four main characters. Still onboard were the original creators Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick who wrote the pilot and would have stayed on to helm the series. Personally I was pumped for this one, but also knew I had to temper expectations because of the budget limitations that would impact the show. I watched the pilot and felt that it had some flaws to it, but also saw that it had a lot of potential. The biggest drawback (mostly for the fans of the movie) was the cast and that fact that they were not the original actors. The actors playing Columbus (Tyler Ross) and Little Rock (Izabela Vidovic) just seemed too young. And there’s just no replacing Woody Harrelson (who’s one of my all-time favorite actors, and yes I do have a man-crush on the guy). But to make matters worse, Kirk Ward delivered a rather oafish portrayal of Tallahassee. But then these are mostly just nitpicks because I was comparing them heavily to the original actors and handicapping them out of the gate.
The writing for the pilot definitely had that same spark of cleverness that we saw with the movie, though several of the jokes you could see coming from a mile away and other running gags ran way too far. But it definitely made me laugh out loud several times and they established a decent enough premise for the show that could have kept it running for several seasons. It’s always hard to set up the concept for a show in the limited timeframe of a pilot episode, and this one had several additional factors working against it. It had to get new viewers up to speed with its original premise (which picks up almost right after the movie ended) while getting fans of the movie onboard with the cast changes and also laying the groundwork for what the ongoing series will be about. And all of this in twenty five minutes time.
Apparently, though, the fans of the movie were pretty unforgiving and ripped the show a new one in the feedback section that Amazon had for the pilots (which appears to be closed now). And according to Rhett Reese, the “series will not be moving forward on Amazon”. In a tweet he sent out a few days ago, he definitely seemed miffed about it, saying “I’ll never understand the vehement hate the pilot received from die-hard Zombieland fans. You guys successfully hated it out of existence.”
So is this yet another case of a promising series cancelled too soon, but with the twist that the fans themselves were the ones that gave it the axe?
Personally, I would have to say yes. I am a huge fan of the movie and would probably rank it in my Top 20 or 25 all-time favorites. And while I would definitely say that the pilot did not measure up to the movie and the new actors were a bit hard to swallow, I knew going in that it had a hard act to follow. I wanted to see a well-written episode that was funny and didn’t disrespect the movie. I got that and more. Plus, the actors had already started to grow on me by the end of the episode (in fact, I started to like super-cutie Maiara Walsh who played Wichita even more than Emma Stone) and I could have learned to like them. I believe that if this pilot had gone in front of the network executives, it would have had a much better chance of making it to series.
So did Amazon give the viewers too much power and does this prove that we need network execs to pick what people should watch instead of the viewers choosing for themselves?
I cetainly hope not, but this experiment did fail to greenlight what I considered a potentially promising series. And looking at another experiment in progress, sci fi fans–who have been clamouring for the next big epic space opera series–have failed to step up and support David Gerrold’s Star Wolf that he is trying to launch via Kickstarter (more on that at this link). It appears obvious that fans want to complain about the networks and the sub-par genre offerings that they typically place on their schedules. But it also appears that they may be a bit too demanding, looking for shows that are out of reach of the scope and budget of the typical episodic series.
I really would have liked to see Zombieland go to series because I believe that it could have developed into a fun little show. Maybe it never would have reached the heights of the original movie, but I will take it over ABC’s The Neighbors or pretty much any of the sitcom offerings on the broadcast nets or cable these days. And perhaps Zombieland still has a chance on one of the cable networks (it was actually originally rejected by the broadcast nets before the writers turned it into a movie).
I’d also like to see David Gerrold’s Star Wolf go into production, giving us possibly the next major sci fi franchise, only this time it is driven solely by the support of the fans. But if those very same fans start getting too picky and demanding, they will undermine these emerging new venues that give them more of a say in the episodic programming they will be watching. And thus ultimately sustain the old model with stogey, disconnected network execs deciding what we watch and instead of us having more of a say in what sci fi television has to offer.
Why Were They Cancelled?
The Plight of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television in the Face of the Unforgiving Nielsens and Networks
Ever wondered why your favorite science fiction and/or fantasy show disappeared from the television schedule, never to deliver anymore new episodes? The reason why, most likely, is that it was cancelled because its ratings were low. And this book looks at those many cancelled sci fi/fantasy shows as well as the Neilsen ratings and television networks that dictate their fates. Available now for only $2.99 on Kindle from Amazon.com.