Woody Allen's Amazon Series: Six Burning Questions
Woody Allen used to joke that television was the result of how Los Angeles disposes of its trash, but now he's in the business himself. There's a lot that's fascinating, surprising, confusing, even shocking about the news that he'll be creating a TV series for Amazon. For one thing, he's maintaining the same secrecy about plot and title that he does for his movies. Still, Moviefone can try to answer your burning questions about the Allen project.
Does Allen know how to write for TV? Yes, he does. Surprisingly, no one seems to remember that one of his first jobs in showbiz was as a TV comedy writer for the great 1950s sketch comic Sid Caesar, whose legendary writer's room launched not just Allen's career but also those of Neil Simon, Carl Reiner, and Mel Brooks. He wrote for some other golden-age comedy series as well. Concurrent with his movie career over the last 45 years, he's written a number of made-for-TV movies, one-act plays, and short films. So a sitcom shouldn't be too much of a stretch.
Allen is 79; does he still have what it takes to make a multi-episode Web series? Well, are you asking about his stamina? The guy's made a movie a year for the last 46 years, and he shows no sign of slowing down. His parents lived to be about 100. So he'll probably be able to handle the workload.
Are you asking if a guy who still uses a typewriter is hip enough to write for a cutting-edge streaming-video distribution model? Well, maybe not. Then again, in movies, he keeps writing screenplays about young people falling in love, so maybe he can still appeal to a youthful demographic. His 2001 short "Sounds From a Town I Love," a funny and poignant montage of New Yorkers talking on their cellphones, suggests both that he understands how people communicate in the mobile-device era and how to make clips that will go viral.
Does hiring a filmmaker of Allen's stature mean that Amazon has arrived as a prestige player? Actually, you could argue that the breakthrough moment came a couple days before the announcement of the Allen deal, when Amazon's critically lauded "Transparent" won the Golden Globe for Best TV Comedy Series, and its star, Jeffrey Tambor, won for Best Actor. So no, it's not really a milestone for Amazon or for the streaming-TV medium; after all, Amazon also has Paul Weitz's "Mozart in the Jungle"; David Fincher is behind Netflix's "House of Cards"; and the Wachowskis are the creators of Netflix's upcoming "Sense8." True none of these are filmmakers as well-regarded as Allen, but they did all make the leap from features to the streaming screen. What's more, traditional TV has also seen an influx of prestige movie directors lately, including Martin Scorsese and Steven Soderbergh. A lot of this speaks to how TV is currently a better medium for writers than mainstream Hollywood film; it's also a haven for indie film directors seeking interim work as episodic TV directors.
If anything, this is less a case of Allen catching up to a new medium than the medium catching up to Allen. The rise of TV-bred auteurs like Larry David, Louis C.K., and Lena Dunham, all of whom wear their Allen influences on their sleeves (C.K. even borrowed Allen's film editor, Susan Morse, for his FX series "Louie"), suggests that Allen should feel right at home in the current landscape.
Can Allen sustain enough ideas for an entire TV series? Yes. The auteur has a famous file full of unproduced story ideas, probably more than he can ever turn into movies. Some of them become plays or New Yorker magazine humor pieces, and some of them gather dust. But his ridiculously prolific mind is not going to have any trouble with satisfying the appetites of binge-watchers.
Isn't Woody Allen pretty much a niche figure these days? Sure, but maybe that will help him here. His movies (aside from fluke hits like "Midnight in Paris") don't sell many tickets in North America, but then, his audience has aged and doesn't like to go out to the movies that often. But then, stay-at-home viewers are the ones he's pursuing anyway through Amazon. His movies do better overseas, and his show presumably will as well, so Amazon's investment in him is probably secure.
Why is Allen getting a TV deal when Bill Cosby is losing his? Indeed, there has been a lot of grumbling about how Allen seems to be benefiting from a double standard, given the horrific accusations of sexual assault against both comedy legends. Neither man, of course, has yet to be proven guilty of any crime, but there's now a full pattern of accusations against Cosby, while Allen has a single accuser. The act Allen is accused of allegedly happened more than 20 years ago, while Cosby's alleged misdeeds span decades. And the accusation against Allen came out during his messy breakup with Mia Farrow, suggesting to Allen supporters that there was an ulterior motive behind the claim. None of this is to excuse either man if he actually is guilty, but it makes it easier for fans to shrug and give Allen the benefit of the doubt than to do the same for Cosby.
There's also the fact that Cosby had an image as America's favorite Dad. Allen has no similarly wholesome image to live up to. In fact, Allen has spent much of the last quarter-century, making films that acknowledge that it's possible to be both a great artist and a horrible human being without one negating the other. (See in particular "Bullets Over Broadway," "Deconstructing Harry," and "Sweet and Lowdown.") So Allen has cultivated an audience that's capable of compartmentalizing his personal life and his creative work. Cosby, however, has suggested throughout his entire career that there is no difference between his work and his life. His stand-up routines, his sitcoms, his fatherly-advice books, and even his "Fat Albert" cartoons are clearly autobiographical. This matters to the extent that Cosby would have been the star of his now-scrapped NBC show, while there's no telling whether or not Allen plans to act in his.