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Amazon Studios begins Season 2 of its bid to become a force in television programming Thursday, offering viewers an opportunity to help guide the company as it chooses from a new batch of 10 pilots.
The pilots include a drama from writer and director Chris Carter, who created The X-Files; a comedy starring Jeffrey Tambor, perhaps best known for his role in Arrested Development; and a kids show from writer Angela Santomero, who created Blue’s Clues.
The pilots are part of Amazon.com Inc.’s novel approach to creating original programming for Amazon Prime Instant Video, its Netflix-like service. Rather than just let Hollywood honchos pick programs on their own, Amazon Studios crowdsources the process, posting the pilots online to get feedback from viewers to help it decide which programs to greenlight for an entire season.
In its first season, Amazon gave the green light to three kids shows and two comedies, including the well-received Alpha House, created by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau and starring Hollywood veteran John Goodman.
Viewers can watch the new pilots free on Amazon.com, as well as Amazon Prime Instant Video in the United States and Amazon’s Lovefilm service in the United Kingdom.
The company wouldn’t say how long viewers could provide comments to winnow the list, but the process lasted about a month in the first round of pilots.
“You’d be surprised what you can learn when you listen to people,” said Joe Lewis, the head of comedy at Amazon Studios.
Perhaps the biggest lesson from the first season is that the company can succeed by avoiding conventional programming, Lewis said. Comedies, such as Alpha House, won over fans even though the storyline stretched over several episodes, a path network comedies rarely follow.
Carter’s pilot, The After, is an apocalyptic thriller that focuses on eight strangers trying to survive in a violent world.
“It’s a giant spectacle,” Lewis said. “There are a lot of X-Files fans who have been waiting for this for a while.”
Tambor stars in Transparent, written and directed by Jill Soloway, who worked as a writer and producer on Six Feet Under. The pilot is about the secrets a Los Angeles family keeps from one another, including the biggest one of all, that Tambor is transgender.
Another comedy, Mozart in the Jungle, focuses on sex and drugs in the classical-music world in New York. The pilot stars include Malcolm McDowell and Bernadette Peters.
Amazon Studios launched three years ago with the notion that anyone who wanted to be a writer or producer could upload an idea to its Web site and let fans help refine it.
This pilot season includes the first program from that open-submission process: Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street, a live-action kids show created by a teacher and first-time screenwriter David Anaxagoras. The pilot was directed by Luke Matheny, who in 2011 won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film for God of Love.
The pilots that survive the gauntlet will be available, likely later this year, to subscribers of Amazon Prime Instant Video. That’s a feature of Amazon Prime, the company’s $79-a-year service that also offers free two-day shipping on many products. Last week, Amazon said it’s considering raising rates for Prime by $20 to $40 a year. The service has more than 20 million subscribers.