“We’re going to give fans the closure they want,” Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke promised critics and reporters during a Television Critics Association press conference on Saturday. What that closure might look like is still a mystery.
Season five will definitely happen and is being planned as we speak. “What form it takes, we haven’t quite announced yet, but it exists and we’re very excited about [it],” Salke said, revealing she knows exactly how the show will handle the absence of Tambor, who played the Emmy-winning series lead character, Maura Pfefferman. The specifics of that news, she said, are for show creator Jill Soloway to break.
“We were just with Jill this week,” Salke said. “I think I’m going to take it upon myself to just tease that Jill came in with sort of what she’s excited about beyond Transparent, and I think you can stay tuned in the next week or two to hear more about what that is, but it’s something we’re incredibly excited about. And so, all good, we’re going to give the Transparent fans the closure that they and we long for, and do what’s right by, you know, those fans.”
Tambor, who won two Emmy Awards for playing the transgender head of the caustic Pfefferman family, was fired from Transparent after the conclusion of a months-long investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against him. (Tambor denies these allegations.)
As the series has gone on, Transparent has evolved from a Maura-centric narrative to one that puts just as much, if not more focus on the anxieties and identity struggles of the larger Pfefferman clan. That the series is continuing for a fifth and final season without the award-winning star at the center of the series’ initial warm reception and press blitz is a bold, if precarious move.
Amazon first teased a path forward without Tambor in June in a Hollywood Reporter interview with Salke, in which she relayed Soloway’s decision to produce a fifth and final season of Transparent without recasting Tambor’s role. Saturday’s news offered little more information, other than the promise of closure. It did little to quell a popular assumption that Tambor’s character will be killed off the show.
Maura’s death would make sense as a bookend of sorts to the series’ arc. Her coming out as transgender in season one sparked dramatic growth in each of the Pfefferman family members. And her death would provide the impetus to reckon with the scope and scale of that change over the last four years.
But apart from a lack of specifics from Salke at a venue where executives are traditionally grilled by TV reporters, it’s frustrating how little we still know about what the investigation into the allegations against Tambor entailed, how changes are put into place on set in the wake of such investigations, and how Salke thinks the controversy in the midst of the #MeToo movement played into the series’ awards reception this year. (The Emmy darling earned no nominations this year.)
Still, it is interesting that the biggest news to come out of the Amazon executive session is about Transparent, given that the series was the streaming service’s first critical hit. Arguably, it put Amazon on the map as an original series content platform that could compete with the likes of Netflix and Hulu, not to mention traditional broadcast and cable networks.
The rest of the press conference almost entirely focused on the platform’s future, touting bold-faced names who have signed for new series, an update on the hotly anticipated (and hugely expensive) Lord of the Rings series, and plans to improve how people who use Amazon Prime can actually find these TV shows. (The platform's user interface might be the worst of any service out there.)
Salke announced deals with Nicole Kidman’s production company for a series based on the novel The Expatriates, about an ensemble of women living in the same ex-pat community in Hong Kong. Lena Waithe’s horror anthology series, called THEM, has been greenlit for two seasons. The first installment, THEM: Covenant, will be set in 1953 and will center on a black couple’s move to an idyllic all-white neighborhood. And a comedy called Upload from Greg Daniels, the U.S. showrunner of The Office, about a near-future in which people can upload themselves into specific afterlives, has also earned a green light.
The announcement of writers for Amazon's Lord of the Rings series came as perhaps the most tantalizing tidbit about the service’s future programming. Amazon sent shockwaves through the industry when it paid a whopping $250 million for the rights to produce a TV series based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. Writing the series will be JD Payne and Patrick McKay, the team best known for writing Star Trek 4 and the upcoming Jungle Cruise. (Yep, the scribes behind the most expensive television project of all time are the guys behind that movie about the Disney ride starring The Rock.)
A major thrust of reporters' questioning during the Amazon session centered on what the service's brand actually is. Part of that is because Salke is still early in her tenure as head of the streaming service. (She was named head of Amazon Studios in February following the resignation of Roy Price amid sexual harassment allegations.) And part of it is because Amazon, as evidenced by that Lord of the Rings series' price tag and the high-wattage names in the aforementioned deals, seems to have some rainforest of money trees it’s using to haphazardly lure very famous people to make very expensive series.
Salke went on at length about creators who have timely things to say, but shed only a marginal bit of light on that moneybags assumption. The spending bonanza that has dominated film for so long is now, with Amazon, Netflix, and especially Apple, moving to television. Amazon swaggered its way into that content arms race on Saturday, breezing through talk about the shows currently on its slate and hyping the big names arriving in the future.
Case in point: Amazon brought the biggest star of all the networks to the Television Critics Association conference this year, a feat which can’t have come cheaply. During her press conference discussing her role in the upcoming thriller Homecoming, Julia Roberts was asked about her decision to act in her first regular role on the small screen. It’s not about big screens, or small screens, she said. “My television is very big.”