What next for Amazon studio?
As the head of Amazon's entertainment studio since 2014, Roy Price was tasked with shaping the e-retailer into a major player in the film and TV world.
But his unpaid suspension last week after a television producer accused him of making unwanted sexual advances toward her has not only raised questions about his future in the industry, but also of how much damage it will do to the company's entertainment ambitions.
Price's leave from the company came just days after similar accusations led to the firing of prolific producer Harvey Weinstein from the eponymous production company he co-founded.
And it placed increased pressure on Amazon, which found itself entangled in the Weinstein web due to upcoming TV projects produced by his former company. The allegations against Price have thrust Amazon further into the spotlight over its treatment of women.
Isa Hackett, an executive producer on the Amazon Prime drama "The Man in the High Castle," came forward with details of her interaction with Price, which occurred during a promotional tour at Comic-Con in San Diego two years ago, in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that was published Thursday. (The incident was first reported in August on the tech news website the Information but came into sharper focus last week with Hackett's interview.)
Hackett said she reported the incident to Amazon executives, who then hired an outside investigator to assess the claim and didn't disclose its findings. On Thursday, Hackett's legal representative, Christopher Tricarico, confirmed the series of events.
Price didn't respond to a request for comment.
The Seattle-based company also drew criticism last week from actress Rose McGowan. In a Twitter posting on Thursday, McGowan said she warned Amazon not to do business with Weinstein but was ignored.
Amazon also partnered with Weinstein Co. on two big-ticket series, "The Romanoffs" from "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner, which is currently in production, and an untitled project from writer-director David O. Russell starring Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore.
According to a statement from Craig Berman, vice president of communications at Amazon, the company is currently reviewing its options for the projects with Weinstein Co.
With Price on leave, veteran executive Albert Cheng has been tapped to run Amazon Studios on an interim basis.
Hollywood had already been turning on Price. In 2015, the streaming service appeared to be on the creative leading edge thanks to the critical and awards success of "Transparent," its groundbreaking comedy series starring Jeffrey Tambor as a transgender woman, which launched in 2014.
But in September, streaming video had arrived at the 69th Emmy Awards, with Netflix and Hulu scoring big wins and Amazon going home empty-handed in the major categories.
Two of the night's most-awarded series, HBO's "Big Little Lies" and Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale," were projects that Price passed on.
"Two years ago Amazon was out there in front, leading Netflix in creating shows that could not get made on network or cable," said one veteran producer and TV executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Somehow the tide had turned."
If Price is fired, there is no reason to believe that the well-funded Amazon could not quickly get on track to finding the next noisy streaming hit. History shows that abrupt changes at the top of a network or studio are disruptive but survivable.
In 2007, HBO had reached a new pinnacle in creative credibility and financial success under its top programmer Chris Albrecht, who had developed the premium channel's signature hits "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City." But Albrecht had to leave the company that year after he was arrested and charged with choking his girlfriend in the parking lot of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Yet even with Albrecht exiting his defining role, HBO rolled on to even greater heights, as its biggest hit "Game of Thrones" premiered in 2011. The service is now considered the crown jewel of Time Warner and the primary reason AT&T is willing to pay $85.4 billion to take over the company.
"Based on the reports that Amazon Studios has been dysfunctional under his watch, they may use this as a reason to get rid of him," said Michael Pachter, managing director of equity research for Wedbush Securities. "Roy Price's alleged behavior is a convenient excuse to change things up there."
Pachter believes Amazon is investing $4.5 billion in video this year, but with so many players competing in the original programming arena "the content business is tough." A new leader would need a couple of years to turn it around.
The general thinking in the creative community is that whoever takes Price's job gets the advantage of the deep pockets of Amazon and the marketing clout provided through the customer data it gathers from online shoppers. Like every other TV outlet, it depends on timing, luck and making the right choices, something Price was no longer doing.
Amazon could turn to Cheng, who has a spotless personal reputation, and not risk the kind of embarrassment that Price has caused to the company. The company also has Judy McGrath, a veteran TV programmer who headed MTV in its glory days, on its board of directors and could turn to her to right the ship.
Whoever takes the reins will be left with the tensions already inflamed by Price's regime.
Amazon's leadership came under fire last fall when it abruptly canceled the first-year series "Good Girls Revolt." Created and written by women and inspired by real-life events at Newsweek magazine, the period drama followed a group of young female journalists fighting workplace sexism in the late 1960s.
Like other streaming networks, Amazon until then had a reputation for being generous with second-season renewals, making the decision to cancel "Good Girls Revolt" a shock to many.
Amazon does not release viewership information. It said only that the series "wasn't performing at the levels we had hoped for." According to reports at the time, there were no women involved in deciding the fate of "Good Girls Revolt," and Price had never shown much interest in it. (According to creator Dana Calvo, he didn't know the characters' names.)
While Amazon first made a name for itself with the strong female-driven storytelling of "Transparent," created by Jill Soloway, it has since engaged in an arms race with streaming rivals Netflix and Hulu.
Lately, it has handed out huge sums of money to attract A-list and mostly male talent, including several men with allegations of sexual misconduct in their past.
That includes shelling out $100 million to lure Woody Allen, who wrote and directed the six-episode critical dud "Crisis in Six Scenes," which was released in September 2016 and, last month, signing a first-look deal with Oscar winner Casey Affleck, who has been accused of sexual harassment by two former co-workers. The claims were settled out of court.
For her part, commenting on the turbulence of the last week's revelations in general - not specifically addressing the Price suspension - Soloway said in a statement obtained by the Los Angeles Times, "We live in a country and world where the systems of power have operated in favor of men, and this is especially true in Hollywood. The egregious and heinous behavior of those who perform, perpetuate or passively condone acts of harassment or assault is one of the worst manifestations of this patriarchal system. ... I strongly support the brave individuals who have found the strength to speak their truth to expose and condemn this immorality."
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