Amazon announced this week that it would be canceling three of its shows, signaling a problem that’s deeper than having to find a new favorite to binge.
I Love Dick, One Mississippi, and Jean-Claude Van Johnson were sent to the chopping block following a mandate CEO Jeff Bezos put forth last year to the then president of Amazon Studios, Roy Price, to focus on series with broader, more international appeal. It’s a predictable strategy that reeks of big-ticket movie studios’ insatiable quest for tentpole projects.
No one is faulting Bezos for wanting to find the next Game of Thrones, one of the most successful shows of the past decade. But why does the hunt for spectacle programming have to come at the expense of more niche series like I Love Dick and One Mississippi–shows that have been well received by critics, have enthusiastic viewerships, and–especially significant during Hollywood’s ongoing misogyny meltdown–give women a better foothold in an industry that’s still very much a boys’ club?
True, Amazon won big at this year’s Golden Globes with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Best Television Series and Best Actress in a musical or comedy), which was created by Amy Sherman-Palladino as part of an ongoing deal with Amazon. Catastrophe co-creator Sharon Horgan also recently scored a two-year deal with the streaming giant.
However, inclusion shouldn’t be a zero-sum game.
Tig Notaro’s highly personal tragicomedy One Mississippi was a brilliant meditation on grief and loss, while Jill Soloway (creator of Amazon’s breakout hit Transparent) deftly adapted Chris Kraus’s cult feminist novel I Love Dick. In this era of peak TV, no series should be kept on the air just because, particularly if it’s not resonating with audiences or is too costly to maintain (hello, Woody Allen’s “$100 million boondoggle” for Amazon, Crisis in Six Scenes). But One Mississippi and I Love Dick don’t fit either of those bills. When you’re a small show, having critical support, like One Mississippi and I Love Dick did (“tender, occasionally funny, often moving entertainment”; “a treat for the intellect and the heart”) is often half the battle. Neither amassed Jon Snow-size audiences–presumably, anyway, since Amazon has not released specific ratings. But it is reasonable to assume that the bottom line for both series would be a rounding error for a company nearing a $1 trillion valuation.
Moreover, there are other ways to make a return on investment–like by creating waves in the culture with social commentary. One Mississippi, for instance, featured a sexual misconduct storyline that was based on Louis C.K. before those allegations officially came to light. How can championing smart female showrunners whose series anticipate seismic shifts like #MeToo possibly be bad business–especially when Amazon just faced its own #MeToo scandal? And yet, One Mississippi managed only two seasons and I Love Dick lasted just one.
A similar fate befell another female-centric Amazon Original, Good Girls Revolt. Creator Dana Calvo’s adaptation of Lynn Povich’s book about a group of young female researchers at Newsweek in the 1960s who filed a sexual discrimination case (a subject that is never not relevant) was canceled after just one season. According to Calvo, Price nixed the show without even watching the full season. Sure, Price met karmic retribution when he was forced out of Amazon following sexual assault allegations last year, but that won’t undo Good Girls‘ cancelation (though a social media campaign did try to resurrect it for a second season). And nothing seems likely to shake Bezos’ determination to zero in on wide-appeal projects like the one the company picked up last fall: a series adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Because if there’s one thing the world needs, it’s another trip to Middle Earth–six movies just weren’t enough.
Who knows? Amazon could very well find a global mega-hit with a female lead and showrunner. But if reaching prestige TV on a massive scale means thinning out programming that needs more time to grow, the odds aren’t looking great.
On the positive side, canceled series have found new homes in the past. So maybe One Mississippi or I Love Dick will find happy twist endings of their own.