Cable television has been increasingly producing their own dramas and situation comedies, competing successfully with the networks in terms of quality if not ratings. Additional sources of original programming have been popping up. DirectTV kept Friday Night Lights alive, showing the show before NBC in its last few seasons. Netflix realized that there are many sources for old movies and television shows and that they had to produce their own shows to attract new subscribers. This year they put out shows including House of Cards and a revival of Arrested Development. This was done in a unique manner of releasing the entire season at a time so subscribes could view them at their own pace, similar to watching old shows on Netflix. Amazon Prime is trying to compete with Netflix, providing a combination of pay-for-view shows and shows available without additional charge to subscribers to the service which began as a way to get free or reduced shipping with an annual fee.
Amazon let subscribers chose among over a dozen pilots, airing those which attracted the most support. Yesterday Amazon announced that they will produce Alpha House, which received the most attention due to being created and written by Garry Trudeau, best known for “Doonesbury” and staring John Goodman. There are also cameo roles by Bill Murray and Stephen Colbert in the pilot.
The show, based on a real property in the District that has housed a rotation of various Democratic senators for years, has been the brainchild of Trudeau since about 2008. Inspired by a New York Times story about the house, Trudeau originally wrote the pilot for network television, but things didn’t pan out.
Last January, Alter, a close friend of Trudeau’s, brought up the idea of resurrecting the abandoned pilot. Trudeau’s response, Alter said, was something along the lines of, “Well, be my guest.” Although Trudeau was unsure about pitching the script to Amazon Studios, Alter said, Alter convinced him that an online series was the way to go…
Goodman plays Gil John Biggs, a brash, unfiltered senator from North Carolina who seems to be the leader of the alpha house. When he’s not making fun of his roommate-colleagues, he’s on the phone with his wife, back in his home district, who’s telling him to step up his game, because the beloved Duke basketball coach is planning to run against him in the next election. Goodman is joined by Clark Johnson, Matt Malloy and Mark Consuelos, who also play Republican senators.
(Trudeau went against the political affiliations of the actual house because, he said in a Washington Post interview, Democrats are currently pretty boring, while Republicans “are tearing themselves apart and will be for the foreseeable future.”)
The pilot skewers various aspects of Washington, cracking jokes at the expense of both conservatives and liberals. In one exciting coincidence, Trudeau penned a scene about an epic filibuster years before the 13-hour speech in March by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). At first, the writers of the show were worried that an all-night filibuster might seem unrealistic; after Paul’s performance, truth proved stranger than fiction, and the scene stayed.