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Amazon's New Slate Of Shows Is Ambitious; Its Publicity Game Should Be Too


Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, is dipping more and more into television, and they're learning the hard way how difficult it can be to do publicity. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans is watching all this play out. He's with fellow TV critics in Beverly Hills, gathered for two weeks of press conferences, cocktail parties, visits to studios and sets. All of this is an attempt to drum up publicity for the next six months of television shows. Eric's on the line. Good morning, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: I had to tear myself away from the pool to be with you, but...

GREENE: Well, I apologize.

DEGGANS: ...How you doing?

GREENE: That makes me feel awful.

DEGGANS: (Laughter).

GREENE: So, Amazon - I mean, they're getting into television. They're streaming shows. What do you think of all this?

DEGGANS: Well, they have an ambitious slate of new shows coming up. They're going to have at least one new show a month all the way through to December when the second season of "Transparent" is going to debut. Now in "Transparent," we have Jeffrey Tambor starring as a retired college professor who's transitioning from male to female, and he goes through this with his grown children. We have a clip here of Tambor's character and his adult daughter getting into a fight with a stranger in a woman's bathroom. Let's check it out.


ELAINE HENDRIX: (As Mom) Excuse me, are you a man? Because this is the ladies restroom.

AMY LANDECKER: (As Sarah) Yeah, we're aware of what it is, thank you.

HENDRIX: (As Mom) OK. That's - sir...

LANDECKER: (As Sarah) Thank you. We're good.

HENDRIX: (As Mom) ...Sir, can you hear me? Because this is the ladies restroom, and clearly that is a man.

LANDECKER: (As Sarah) This is my father, and he's a woman. And he has every right to be in this bathroom.

HENDRIX: (As Mom) No - well, no...

GREENE: Sensitive moment there in that bathroom.

DEGGANS: Yeah, this is a significant and important show, "Transparent." That show's first season earned 11 Emmy nominations, and it really helped pave the way for more visibility of transgender characters on television. Now Amazon is working with big names like Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Woody Allen. They put out an announcement a few days ago that they're bringing the three guys who once starred in this global hit on the BBC, a car show called "Top Gear," to create a new show about automobiles for Amazon. They are really bringing it out towards the end of the year here.

GREENE: Well, so, I mean, based on what you're seeing, are critics taking them seriously? Can they pull all this off - this ambitious plan?

DEGGANS: Well, judging by their appearance here at the TV Critics press tour, they've got some challenges ahead of them. I asked Amazon executives why they hired these guys from "Top Gear." Now, star Jeremy Clarkson was fired reportedly for punching his producer in the face. And years before that, he was known for making racist and sexist remarks on his show. We've got a clip here of him apologizing for reciting a children's rhyme that included a racial slur.


JEREMY CLARKSON: I was mortified by this - horrified. It is a word I loathe. And I did everything in my power to make sure that that version did not appear in the program.

GREENE: Not the publicity that Amazon was probably looking for here.

DEGGANS: Exactly. And Amazon didn't really have a good answer about what they were going to do to ensure this doesn't happen again. They also didn't respond well to questions about working with Woody Allen who's under a cloud because of allegations he molested his adopted daughter, which he's denied. So another issue here is that, like Netflix and other streaming services, Amazon doesn't really tell journalists how many people are watching their shows. So it's tough to know what success means for them. They come to this press tour to try and get us critics excited about their shows, but they came across this week as kind of disconnected tech executives who don't quite know how to speak to the popular press or the public, for that matter.

GREENE: Well, Eric, I feel like there's always this tension between sort of the press and, say, companies, politicians, about, you know, how much a company has to reveal to us to be successful. Is it really important here?

DEGGANS: Well, I think one thing that Amazon's competitors - say, Netflix, or if they're really feeling ambitious, HBO - have realized is that journalists and critics are really crucial in spreading buzz for their new shows. There's so much TV out there that people really do rely on journalists and writers to point out what's hip and cool on television. Amazon has cleared one hurdle. They've shown the TV industry that they can work with some of the biggest producers and actors in TV, but they still have to learn to communicate with the press and, by extension, the public.

GREENE: All right, that's NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans who's in Los Angeles at the TV Critics Association's summer press tour. Eric, thanks.

DEGGANS: I'm headed back to the pool.

GREENE: You go. And we have a show to get back to. It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.