The best thing Amazon did for its new show ‘Transparent’ was doing nothing at all

The full season of Transparent, part of the latest slate of original programming from Amazon, debuts on Sept. 26. Already, the entertainment press has taken to calling it Amazon’s House of Cards — its own version of a buzzy, viral show like Netflix’s Kevin Spacey-led look at the dark side of politics. Many believe Transparent has the potential to turn heads – and hook viewers.

It’s not just because of Transparent’s unconventional story, the broad strokes of which include a family patriarch played by Jeffrey Tambor who decides to live the rest of his life as a woman. Show creator Jill Soloway – who brings significant artistic heft to the project, with her resume including stints as a writer and producer for HBO’s Six Feet Under – told Digital Trends she creatively swung for the fences, and that Amazon gave her plenty of space to do so.

Such gambles are almost a necessity these days for showrunners like Soloway, who take their original projects to Web-based services like Amazon. In an on-demand world, Soloway explains, for people to “demand” your show, you have to give them a can’t-miss product that cuts through the noise. She hopes that Transparent‘s first 10-episode season, the lead-off episode of which is already online, is binge worthy.

“When I went to Amazon meetings, it wasn’t like pitching at a TV network,” Soloway tells Digital Trends. “It was exciting. It felt like the future. If you’re at one of the networks, you go through an entire process of really shaving down parts of the show. Anything that could offend anyone goes, because they’re in the business of courting advertisers. Amazon doesn’t have the brand of HBO, though, so they need a product where people say, ‘You need to see this show.’

“When I went to Amazon meetings, it wasn’t like pitching at a TV network. It was exciting. It felt like the future.

“It’s a mandate for me to go to my riskiest spaces as an artist.”

Not that risk doesn’t happen at a traditional network. As much as he loves what Amazon is doing, show star Jeffrey Tambor, for example, insists he doesn’t want to come off as “the anti-network guy.” But he does see services like Amazon and content like Transparent as threats to the status quo because they represent, to him, a much-needed revolution in TV entertainment.

Tambor says he also loves the convenience, the artistic freedom, and immediacy of how streaming services like Amazon do what they do. And he told Digital Trends that Transparent afforded him a rare opportunity — the chance to play the kind of role “you just don’t get at 70.”

It’s the kind of role that calls for him, at one point, to respond with palpable emotional resonance to one of his children who asks whether he’ll be dressing up as a woman all the time now: “No, all my life I’ve been dressing up as a man … This is me.”

Reading through the script, packed with moments like that, he says he fell in love with the story, and it didn’t matter that the platform was Amazon. The story, he says, was “so singular, so beautiful.”

“I think people and programmers better pay attention,” says Tambor, who’s trod similar ground already at Netflix, where he reprised the character of George Bluth for the Netflix-exclusive season four of Arrested Development.

Transparent TV Show from Amazon Studios
Amy Landecker and Jeffrey Tambor (Image: Amazon Studios)

“Here’s the deal. An actor will run to something that’s good and has quality. The world I was born into, in 1944, I remember when we had to get up and walk to the set and turn to channel 2 to watch Ed Sullivan. Now, I can walk to the subway and watch two episodes of Transparent. I like it and welcome it. I own a bookstore, Skylight Books, in Los Angeles. I also have two Kindles I’m looking at right now. I like it all, paper and Kindles. I like shows like (Amazon’s) Alpha House and the networks. The world is changing. It’s content-heavy. The risk is back. The storytellers are back.”

Soloway, who won a directing award at Sundance in 2013 for her film Afternoon Delight, says the way that Amazon manages its original programming – votes from the public, and Netflix-esque binge-ability, for example – carry obvious lessons for traditional outlets. She zeroes in on something more subtle, though, which she thinks Amazon gets right and which helps it go where networks don’t.

“On any other television show, over at the place called ‘video village’ where the monitors are, you’ll find anywhere between three and 10 people with their arms folded,” she says. “They’ll be asking the unconscious question, ‘Are you guys getting this right for us? Are we going to be able to make money from this?’ That’s hovering across the performances and the vibe on the set.

The way that Amazon manages its original programming carries obvious lessons for traditional outlets.

“What Amazon allows us to do by, frankly, not showing up – they come to visit for maybe 15 minutes, and they don’t stand there making me feel like it’s my job to deliver them a product that I’m maybe going to get right or wrong. Instead, they really privilege the process. Sure, it’s a product, but we all get to live in this space where the process is the most important thing. We feel like we’re making an independent film, and it’s 1976, and we’re Cassavetes and we’re really free – so we better go for our edges and our risk spaces.”

Before throwing in with Amazon, Soloway had at first taken her project to “each of the usual suspects.” Her script had been sent to HBO, Showtime, IFC, Netflix, and Amazon.

Back then, she regarded them all more or less as equals. And she wasn’t thinking at that point about a digital platform.

“As I began to talk to people, even though places like HBO and Showtime were interested, I’d get slotted into the usual development process, which means tons of notes from executives and maybe the pilot never gets made,” Soloway said, describing Amazon’s process as “nimble and fast.”

“TV needs to do more than what it used to do, because we’re competing with people who can be engrossed in a drama about themselves on Facebook or a video game they can play. (TV) used to be this collective meditation where people could relax before bedtime – watch a sitcom, you laugh every 30 seconds and then go to bed. For us, we’re not really trying to lull anybody from dinner to bedtime. We’re trying to capture people who really want their attention held.”

You can stream the upcoming season of Transparent here. It’s free to anyone with Amazon Prime.

Product Review

Focal’s ultra-clear Sphear Wireless bring sexy back to banded Bluetooth buds

Focal’s Sphear Wireless are a sleek and simple pair of banded Bluetooth earbuds with exceptional sound and an affordable price, making them some of the only non-true wireless earbuds we’d consider buying right now.
Home Theater

Netflix vs. Hulu vs. Amazon Prime: Battle of the on-demand streaming giants

Trying to figure out which subscription streaming service to use while sticking to a frugal entertainment budget? Check out our updated comparison of the big three: Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu.
Movies & TV

Best new shows and movies to stream: ‘High Flying Bird,’ ‘White Dragon,’ and more

Need something to watch this weekend? Check out our list of the best new shows and movies to stream right now. On the list this week: High Flying Bird, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, and more.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

These wireless earbuds use an A.I. to get you moving faster

The new Soul Blade wireless earbuds provide the ability to track your heart rate during a workout while an A.I.-powered coach gives advice and info on how to improve form and efficiency while exercising.

Walmart drops prices on Samsung 4K TVs during Presidents’ Day sale

With 8K TVs on the horizon, the cost of owning a 4K Ultra HD television has dropped pretty significantly in recent years, and this Walmart Presidents' Day sale is offering some great prices.
Home Theater

Apple will reportedly launch its new video-streaming service at March 25 event

The rumors about what Apple will announce at a March 25 event continue to swirl. A new report suggests that it will debut its much-anticipated video-streaming service, which will compete with Netflix and Amazon's Prime Video.
Home Theater

Bose’s technology patents could save an earbud’s battery life

Possibly taking a cue from Apple's popular AirPods, Bose filed a patent application for earbud IR technology that could save battery life, improve sound quality, and possibly help people locate lost earbuds.
Home Theater

ATSC 3.0: The next-gen TV update explained

ATSC 3.0 is the next major update to the broadcast standard we use today. Will this be the second coming of free, over-the-air TV? We're here to explain everything about the new standard.
Home Theater

Samsung accidentally leaks its new Galaxy Buds ahead of launch

It's been all but certain that Samsung would launch a successor to its Gear IconX wireless earbuds soon, but a newly leaked photo and recent FCC certification document seems to indicate that the debut is very close.
Home Theater

Hi-res streaming audio service Qobuz arrives in U.S., threatens Tidal’s monopoly

For several years, Tidal enjoyed a monopoly on hi-res music streaming in the U.S. Now, French company Qobuz is here to offer some competition with a variety of monthly plans starting at $10 a month.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our 10 favorites.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny, muffled TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.
Home Theater

Samsung will stop making 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players

A report claims that Samsung, the first company to produce a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player, is now exiting that market entirely. The move comes after Oppo Digital made the same decision last year.