No Country For Old(er) Men?

At first glance, one wouldn’t think Odetta Watkins would have much in common with Keri Lake.  I mean, look at Watkins.  It’s probably safe to assume which side of a political ticket she privately chooses.

But after Next TV’s Daniel Frankel reported this recent public appearance by Amazon Prime Video’s head of drama developmet, as well as the reaction from Watkins’ teammates to his attempt to report it further, that first-blush ridiculous comparison seems to have some merit, at least to me.

Trying to put the best possible spin on a very expensive TV show that hasn’t caught on in its most important market, Amazon Studios dramatic series chief Odetta Watkins told a Banff Media Festival audience in Alberta, Canada Sunday that Citadel simply needs more time to catch on in the States.  “I think you’ll start to see the audience start to respond differently as it goes on. In the U.S., we are very jaded and watch everything with a discerning eye, like, ‘Hmm, that [season] wasn’t as good as the last one.’ I just think [Citadel] needs time to grow,” said Watkins, who was quoted by several Penske showbiz trades in attendance.  “I can tell you from a creative perspective, for me, it’s a victory, because the show was conceived to be able to speak to the world,” Watkins added. 

Well, that should be good enough for most folks, right?  After all, as the blurb that announced her hiring by Prime Video in fall 2021 announced, Watkins’ track record is associated with plenty of bona fide hits:

Watkins joins Amazon in the newly created role from Warner Bros. Television, where she was most recently executive vice president of current programs, cable and streaming.  Watkins spent 19 years with WBTV, first joining the studio in 2002 as director of current programs.  With WB, Watkins oversaw a team of executives responsible for the day to day maintenance of dramas and comedies including “Sweet Tooth,” “The Flight Attendant,” “Ted Lasso,” “Doom Patrol,” “Titans,” “Pennyworth,” “Self-Made: Inspired By the life of Madam CJ Walker,” “Queen Sugar,” “Cherish the Day,” “David Makes Man,” “Shrill” and “Sandman.

Yes, I suppose you’ve seen actual ratings on those titles, if not from Nielsen, then certainly from a verified upstart like a Comscore, Samba or ISpot.  Or perhaps even in some form from the platform’s own substanital in-house global metrics database, just like Netflix at least attempts to provide industry observers with their iteration of a roadmap.

Oh you haven’t?  Well, neither has Watkins, apparently.  And when Frankel attempted to try and follow up on her blind confidence, he reported that he got this reaction:

Next TV agreed with Rolling Stone‘s assessment that the production, scoring an aggregated 54% among critics, could rightly be called a “disaster,” given its steep reported production cost.

Next TV received a phone call Friday from Amazon Studios press rep, informing us that the series — the second most expensive ever made behind Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power — has been enthusiastically received oversees (sic).

The series, parts of which were shot in the UK, and which stars Scottish stage actor Richard Madden alongside Indian actress Priyanka Chopra, did get picked up for a second season. 

Yet, Amazon hasn’t disclosed any Citadel metrics for Europe or any other territory. 

We KNOW those metrics exist.  We know her boss’ boss, Jen Salke, personally championed this extremely expensive gambit as a global gamechanger for Prime.  A few weeks ago, I amplified the reporting from THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER that told in detail the degree of Salke’s commitment and determination just before the show dropped.  And I’ve been around this business long enough to know that when the person who signs your large paycheck has that much on the line, you’re obligated to publicly defend to the death against any possible information that might make that task a little more difficult.

So I’m not personally holding Watkins responsible for her version of election denialism, nor am I even going to reprimand the minion from Amazon’s press department that did their best to turn Frankel around.

But given the fact that Frankel and I both have been to more than our share of rodeos, and have therefore smelled more than our share of horsesh-t defenses of other disasters, I wonder if they’re not just a little frustrated that his observation, like mine, is coming from someone who clearly doesn’t have a thing in common with their respective demographic profiles.

When this project was ordered, Amazon was less concerned with proof of performance; as an SVOD, they didn’t have to be.  But Amazon, like its chief competitors, is now being forced to pivot toward ad-supported tiers, where eyeballs DO matter.  Moreover, there are investors who would like to know if the $300 million of Jeff Bezos’ money that has been committed to CITADEL was well spent or not.  Frankel has every right to ask for something–anything–to support Prime Video’s unwavering support beyond the personal imprinteur of the esteemed Odetta Watkins.

Watkins and her rep could have referenced some sort of data from some panel to back up their assurance that CITADEL “speaks to the world”.  Some relative data from some territory.  Even a gosh-darned primary study suggesting positive feedback from actual viewers.  I personally know some of the folks who run this area for Amazon, and if you can have torn one away from the hospitality tent at Stade Roland Garros while she was posting glam shots last week on her social media I’m sure she might have been able to whip something up.

Something–anything–resembling actual data probably would have played better with me than the approach that Watkins and her rep took.

My antenna goes up when I see this sort of denialism among executives, because it’s exceptionally frustrating and insulting that we now seem to embrace a culture where accountability to any objective barometer is feared.  No, the stakes aren’t quite as high as the results of a free democracy-supporting election.  But the inability to accept any result that doesn’t mirror one’s own expectations is just as ostrich-like.

I believe someone like Watkins has intense resentment for anyone who would dare try and point out that her personal satisfaction is not enough to call CITADEL something than a disaster.  Sure, there’s always the chance that a second season could improve upon the first.  But history strongly suggests that’s often not the case, not in the U.S., not anywhere.  And if any data did exist to suggest that CITADEL’s reception beyond its’ underwhelming release week was out there, I suspect her hard-working press rep would have cited it.

And I believe that resentment is especially enhanced when it comes from people who don’t fit the demographic profile that folks like Watkins, Salke, and even their insights executives lay claim to.

I believe executives like Watkins believe they are far less firable.  I believe she, Salke, Lancaster and their compatriots believe companies like theirs are incentivized to advertise that they’re hiring–and even promoting–folks like them despite any demonstrable proof of actual success.  Indeed, I KNOW from HR executives I’ve personally spoken to that said emphasis is indeed more prevalent than even before.  I’ve seen REAL data that supports my beliefs.  And I personally feel the upshot from it every single waking moment of every single day of late.

I KNOW if given the chance, I could have provided someone like Watkins with something a bit more convincing and grounded than the flailing, overly defensive ‘tude she took in Banff.  Believe me, I’ve done way more with even greater disasters relative to the time than CITADEL.

But I don’t believe for a millisecond that she would even think I’m worthy of that chance.  And certainly, not her superiors, at least the ones below those at the very top of the company who personally knew and entrusted me when we all worked together to build FX, among other networks.

Am I overly defensive?  Sure.  If you spent yesterday as I did dodging e-mails and phone calls from my creditors, you might be. too.

I suspect the Amazons from Amazon weren’t as worried about their credit scores as I am.  And as long as they can stop folks like Frankel from trying to glean some sort of evidence that something beyond their own satisfaction supports spending nine figures on a global series, they’re all the more likely to continue to be fiscally stable.  For decades.  They all hold stock in Amazon, remember?

But I guess in any country where 75 million voters, who as Lake reminds are disproportinately card-carrying members of the NRA, many of whom will be cheering on an indicted racist vengeful lunatic who they will go their graves believing should be well into his seventh consecutive year of being in charge of the free world, it’s entirely possible for a team of highly compensated and diverse executives from a trillion-dollar company to be capable of their own form of denialism.

If I’m wrong, I challenge them to prove it.   I’ve even given them a few viable ways to do so.

Let’s see if any of them paid attention.  Or, short of that, might pay attention to my ever-present link below.

Yep, it’s rapidly approaching that time of the month for me.  So do forgive my stubbornly ubiquitous request.  I can’t deny the results of my own “races”, especially my credit score.

Yet I still believe we should all be able to thrive in a country where even old(er) men with attention to detail are valued.  So much as I’d love to really tear into the likes of Watkins today, I’ll cut her some slack.

I hope she’s capable of cutting folks like me some as well.

Until next time…

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