Earlier this month, Variety reported that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos issued a mandate to the company’s studio: produce more “high-end drama series with a global appeal.” This morning, Variety reported that the company is following that order by moving forward with three major science fiction shows: adaptations of Larry Niven’s Ringworld, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and Greg Rucka’s Lazarus.
Since launching the studio in 2010, Amazon has earned considerable acclaim for its shows, such as The Man in the High Castle, Transparent, and The Grand Tour, but it seems that Bezos is setting his sights a bit higher. In an interview with Variety earlier this month, the head of Amazon Studios, Roy Price, said that Amazon is looking to create “big shows that can make the biggest difference around the world,” by working on shows that appeal to a global audience.
Price compared their efforts to trying to create the next Game of Thrones, saying that HBO’s fantasy drama is akin to Jaws or Star Wars in the television world. “Everybody wants a big hit and certainly that’s the show of the moment in terms of being a model for a hit,” he said. Variety also says that Price sent an email to Amazon employees, saying that 2018 and 2019 are shaping up to be major years for the company. “Our overall content investment is increasing, which will allow us to continue to meet customer demand around the world for high quality and engaging programming,” he reportedly wrote in the email.
Earlier this year, the studio brought on former Fox executive Sharon Tal Yguado as head of event series. She was tasked with bringing major science fiction, fantasy, and horror television shows to the studio and Amazon’s Prime subscribers. Amazon has dipped its toes into science fiction television with with The Man in the High Castle, its forthcoming anthology series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, and a pilot for a show called Oasis, which debuted earlier this year. The three shows that Amazon is developing could certainly become the same type of television juggernauts as Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, or The Handmaid’s Tale, and Variety notes that the studio is putting “significant production investment,” into each.
Ringworld, based on the classic 1970 novel by Larry Niven, is about a man named Louis Gridley Wu who is enlisted by an alien species to participate in an expedition to locate a mysterious object in space. After crash-landing on the massive construct, he and his crew have to find a way to escape. The novel is followed by several direct sequels, and fits in Niven’s much larger “Known Space” setting, which provides Amazon with a plenty of options for an expansive show. The Syfy Channel originally optioned the novel in 2004, and again in 2013, but nothing came of those efforts.
Snow Crash will be an adaptation of Neal Stephenson’s classic cyberpunk novel, which follows Hiro Protagonist, who delivers pizza by day and by night is a warrior in the virtual reality world Metaverse. He’s sucked into a plot as a computer virus begins to infect players in the virtual world, and has to track down the people behind it. Stephenson’s novel is a huge, influential work when it comes to the field of virtual reality, and with an adaptation of Ernie Cline’s novel Ready Player One on the way, Amazon seems poised to capture that interest.
Finally, Amazon also appears to be moving into the realm of comic books with an adaptation of Lazarus, based off of a comic by Greg Rucka (who helped create the CW’s Supergirl and Arrow, as well as Netflix’s Jessica Jones). That story is about an alternate future in which the world is divided into 16 rival families, who employ a specialized assassin known as Lazarus to help stop uprisings and wars.
Amazon’s efforts to level up its programming are a reaction to increased pressure within the streaming video industry to offer high-quality content to entice viewers. Yesterday, Netflix announced that it was investing $400 million in Canadian productions over the next five years, while Hulu recently earned its first Emmy Award for the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale.