Netflix stole a march in the race to the future of television in February when it released all 13 episodes of a series in a single dump, letting viewers decide when they watched. The online rental site starts filming series two of House of Cards, a US take on the British political thriller, next week, but the competition is already catching up.
LoveFilm, a rival rental service, has just put the first episodes of 14 would-be series online in a subversion of US telly traditions. Every year, suits at the big networks consider pilot episodes, sometimes using test audiences to help decide which become full series. But LoveFilm, which has the big backing of its parent company, Amazon, wants to know what you think.
Eight comedy series that may never see the light of a laptop screen include Zombieland, a television version of the Woody Harrelson film (it’s good, despite missing Woody). In Alpha House, John Goodman plays one of four hapless Republican senators sharing a house in Washington (he’s the best thing about it). Browsers is a musical about Manhattan interns we can probably put out of its misery right now.
There are six kids’ pilots, too. I like the look of Teeny Tiny Dogs (“It’s Butch’s first day at the Barking Lot, and he’s nervous. But with Butterfly, Dinky and Polly around, he doesn’t have to worry about being alone”).
Of course there’s nothing to stop Amazon sucking up the attention and ignoring the views of viewers. There’s also an argument for it; a pilot for a great slow-burner such as Mad Men, say, would be unlikely to do well in an X Factor-style commissioning contest. But Amazon has promised only to make what goes down well.
Elsewhere, the future looks similarly consumer-centric, presumably to the head-scratching horror of those suits quietly pursuing their pilots in the background. Netflix has hit back with Hemlock Grove, a 13-episode horror thriller . Its pilot, directed by Eli Roth, may have benefited from a public release, however – the series has been poorly received by critics. Google, meanwhile, has in YouTube the perfect vehicle for its own fledgling television adventures.
Perhaps the most promising of the Amazon shows is Onion News Empire, a comedy based in the imagined studios of the established satirical online news network. In one scene we see reporters working on a story about suicide bombers who grew too fat for their vests. Others work on a show called “America’s Most Shocking Shark Shootings”. Now there’s a pilot I’d like to see.