Television Power to the People

By Tan, Clarissa | The Spectator, May 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

Television Power to the People


Tan, Clarissa, The Spectator


Forget The Apprentice. A 'reality TV' show where you have no say, and where you can only watch as Sir Alan Sugar does all the hiring and firing? That is so last decade.

Forget, too, quaint programmes such as The X Factor, where you pick the contestants you like and the ones you don't - a format that's been kicking around since Eurovision.

No, imagine if your power as a viewer extended way beyond deciding which participant stays and which goes: instead, you get to choose whether an entire TV series deserves to be born. 'Out!' you can say after watching a single episode of a wannabe series, and finding it wanting. 'Cut! Next!'

Or, if you like a particular pilot episode, you could decree: 'Fabulous. Now make a season's worth and air it on the network. And make it snappy.'

OK, I exaggerate. In reality your role won't be that glamorous. But something very much like that is happening in the world of TV. LoveFilm, the online rental service, has put up 14 pilot episodes on its website: viewers can watch these for free (you need to log in, but don't have to subscribe) and say whether any of them deserves life as a fully fledged series.

There's another twist: these pilots are the products of amateur screenwriters who've uploaded their scripts on the website of Amazon Studios, the film unit of Amazon, which owns LoveFilm. Amazon Studios buys the screenplays it finds promising, then fleshes them out into half-hour episodes. This does away with the traditional role of Hollywood suits choosing which projects to invest in. It's also LoveFilm's riposte to Netflix's House of Cards extravaganza, which saw the rival film service plonk 13 episodes of its critically acclaimed series online, all at once.

Are LoveFilm's pilots any good? Of the 14, eight are sitcoms and six are children's series. Many are mediocre, several are dire, but one or two could have a longish destiny. Let's put it this way - even the worst of them aren't any worse than BBC2's appalling new 'comedy' The Wright Way, of which the British public will have to endure six episodes, plus the knowledge they've paid for the torture through their TV licence fee.

LoveFilm's trial sitcoms include Onion News Empire, about four interns at a 'desperate CNN-like' broadcaster (pretty good); Alpha House, featuring a group of loser US senators who share a home, starring John Goodman with a cameo by Bill Murray (serviceable); Beta, about Silicon Valley geeks (not bad) and Browsers, a 'musical comedy' set in a Huffington Posttype magazine (yuks). …

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