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Viewers To Decide If Amazon's Sample Shows Make The Cut


The popular series "Arrested Development" returns this Sunday with 15 new episodes, released all at once. They're coming from Netflix, which earlier this year, released "House of Cards." Online video companies are producing more of their own shows - not just Netflix, Hulu and Yahoo are getting into the act, as well.

Now, Amazon also wants to join, but they're doing things differently, letting viewers help choose the new lineup. Here's what TV critic Eric Deggans thinks of that approach.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: It's the most pressing question of the moment for modern television: What will be the definitive TV show made for the Internet?


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We need a hit. We need a story that is so enticing.

DEGGANS: Amazon Prime subscribers can now sift through pilot episodes of 14 series starring John Goodman, Bebe Neuwirth and Jeffrey Tambor.


JEFFREY TAMBOR: (as David Everett) Listen up, you fleshy sack of corn syrup and Cheeto grease: That's not going to work on this worm.

DEGGANS: Customers note in the review sections what they think. It's a crowdsourcing setup with more than a whiff of 21st-century cool. But the pilots just aren't groundbreaking enough. The whole arrangement looks more innovative than it truly is.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That sounds pretty last election cycle to me there, Lewis.

DEGGANS: It's looking good for "Alpha House," a comedy from Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau about GOP senators who bunk together in a house in D.C. But it turns out, this show's most remarkable moment belongs to Bill Murray. Here, John Goodman wakes him up, because he's overslept for a very important appointment.


JOHN GOODMAN: (as Gil John Biggs) Vernon! Were you, by any chance, scheduled to turn yourself in at the DOJ this morning?

BILL MURRAY: (as Vernon) Oh, (beep) no!

DEGGANS: If you couldn't tell after we cleaned it up for public radio, no one slings a four-letter word like Bill Murray. But minus the cursing and occasional nudity, none of Amazon's eight new comedies are much bolder than your average basic cable series. In fact, the four-letter words here feel like a dodge. They're trying to make conventional fare seem more daring. That's what trips up this musical number from Bebe Neuwirth's comedy "Browsers."


BEBE NEUWORTH: (as Julianna Mancuso-Bruni) (Singing) I'm someone who makes up new rules every day.

DEGGANS: She plays a proudly profane, Arianna Huffington-style website owner.


NEUWORTH: (as Julianna Mancuso-Bruni) (Singing) For instance, the rule that it sounds declasse to say I'm not someone to (beep) with.

DEGGANS: F-word or not, this feels too much like a bad "Saturday Night Live" skit. Maybe that's why there's already rumors it won't be picked up. But the most controversial show here is probably an animated series featuring two homegirl divas who work in a mall by day and pursue Indiana Jones-style adventures on the side. It's called, of course, "SupaNatural."


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You know what? This is the 49th time we've saved the world. At 50, we should throw a party.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I'm all about a party, but technically, this is still only 48.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We deserve a party up in here.

DEGGANS: So, I'm wondering: Is this a 21st-century minstrel show, or just an Adult Swim cartoon gone bad? What Amazon hasn't said yet is exactly how public feedback will help them pick shows. Or when they will confirm which shows get made into series. Think back on recent history, and there's a handful of TV programs that define their new medium.

HBO's "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City" reset the culture for what you could do with an original, premium cable show. FX's "The Shield" and AMC's "Mad Men" proved you could bring those kinds of complex characters to standard cable. And Netflix's "House of Cards" is making the same argument for streaming video.

Amazon's got to do more than sling a few f-words before they accomplish anything similar. But if you have any ideas how they can get there, I hear they're taking suggestions.

GREENE: Eric Deggans is TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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