Why Did Amazon Pick Up ‘Transparent’ and ‘Mozart in the Jungle,’ Its Least Popular Pilots?


Yesterday, Amazon announced four series orders from the batch of pilots it released last month. There is still no word on the five kids’ shows, but four of the five comedy/dramas got pickups. The lucky shows getting a full series are the dark comedy Transparent, the gritty crime drama Bosch, the raunchy symphony story Mozart in the Jungle, and the sci-fi thriller The After. The one show that got the shaft is the broad comedy The Rebels. This isn’t disappointing news (though it did have a good cast) because, as I’ve previously noted, it was the worst of the bunch. What is surprising is that it failed to get a series order despite Amazon customers’ essentially ranking it third of the five.

Amazon Studios has talked a lot about the importance of customers’ rankings when it comes to deciding which pilots should get full orders. Still, it’s obvious that this isn’t a huge deciding factor — thankfully, because we would’ve certainly gotten The Rebels but not Transparent which had the lowest numbers. Here’s a look at the totals:

The After: 19,599 ratings, 11,200 reviews, 4 stars Bosch: 16,237 ratings, 10,364 reviews, 4.5 stars The Rebels: 6,442 ratings, 3,438 reviews, 4.5 stars Mozart in the Jungle: 6,711 ratings, 3,411 reviews, 4.5 stars Transparent: 5,589 ratings, 2,727 reviews, 4 stars

Many of these numbers could have easily been predicted. The After was always going to be #1 in ratings/reviews. It caught the attention of fans of The X-Files, those curious about Chris Carter’s return to television (or internet television, technically), and anyone who is still missing Lost. It had the most intriguing premise and was guaranteed a pickup because it’s certainly one of those shows that relies on its serial storyline, not individual episodes (get ready for lots of sci-fi theorizing and blind speculations!).

Also predictable were the low numbers for Mozart in the Jungle (an interesting but inaccessible and alienating premise) and Transparent (which has all the makings of a beautifully quiet HBO show that slowly finds a niche audience but doesn’t have the urgent, must-see quality that appeals to Amazon’s wide audience).

But this makes Amazon’s decision-making process a little confusing. I’m not complaining about the final decision at all — I’m ecstatic for Transparent, I can’t wait to see where Mozart in the Jungle goes, and I know I’m going to get sucked in by both The After and Bosch — but it makes me curious about what Amazon based their final decisions on. From the looks of it, they tend to reflect a mix of critical reception and Amazon Studios’ ultimate goals.

It took about a day before Transparent was earning rightful praise from critics, ourselves included, and it likely became clear to Amazon that, even though it ranked much lower than The After, this could be the show to give Amazon Studios the attention and credibility it’s looking for. Last year’s pickups, Betas and Alpha House, were barely talked about, but Transparent will certainly inspire internet discussion, making it a great choice to pin their brand to. It’s the riskier choice (The Rebels is so tame and bland in its execution that it’s completely unmemorable), and it might be Amazon’s mission to become known for these brave choices — I can’t imagine any other network taking a chance on Mozart in the Jungle — especially if it wants to stay afloat amid all the competition and become a streaming powerhouse.