Lauren Anderson and Ryan Pirozzi

Rocco Ceselin

Andrew Buchan, Otto Farrant and Ronke Adekoluejo in Alex Rider

Des Willie
Fill 1
Fill 1
May 11, 2021
In The Mix

Breaking Free

A new streaming service from IMDb offers family programming — and no monthly fee.

Graham Flashner

For more than two decades IMDb, the Internet Movie Database, has served as an encyclopedic repository for TV and film credits, plot summaries and trivia.

Two years ago, the Amazon-owned site upped its game, debuting IMDb TV — a free, ad-based streaming service available through Amazon's Fire TV and Prime Video and also the IMDb app.

In addition to a library of premium films and series, IMDb TV offers original programming with scripted series like Alex Rider, the upcoming documentary series Moment of Truth and a yet-to-be-titled project starring Judge Judy Sheindlin that will be an update of her long-running syndicated show.

Sure, it's a brand extension. But that's not all, as Mark Eamer, vice-president of IMDb TV, explains: "We liked the idea of expanding the IMDb brand to be not only a place where you'd go and learn about great content, but where you could go to discover and watch great content."

The idea for the channel — initially named Freedive — took shape late in 2018. "We had been SVOD [subscription video-on-demand] chauvinists at Amazon Prime," Eamer admits. "What we started to notice on various devices was that people were looking for free content, free movies, free premium TV."

And that ultimately led to a strategy that Lauren Anderson, who coheads content and programming with Ryan Pirozzi, calls "really exciting." Customers, she explains, "don't need a subscription. You can watch the same caliber of content that you're used to from the best networks and cable streamers — and you don't have to pay anything additional."

Ads are limited to eight minutes per episode, roughly half the load of linear TV. "What we discovered was that most customers don't mind ads," Eamer observes. "What bothers them is a really high ad load."

Since ramping up development in February 2020, the platform has been busy acquiring new material. "Our original shows come in all shapes and sizes," Pirozzi says, "from ground-up development to partnership in IP at the book stage to partnership with major studios."

IMDb TV content skews family-oriented, which Eamer describes as "approachable" shows that appeal to a four-quadrant audience. "I'm not sure that a big, violent, TV-MA show would resonate as much with our service," he says.

Alex Rider, IMDb TV's first original series, fits the "approachable" concept perfectly. Based on the best-selling YA books by Anthony Horowitz (Foyle's War), the show — which blends action thrills with comic teen angst — stars Otto Farrant (Mrs. Wilson) as Alex, a London teenager who has unwittingly been trained as a spy. Shortly after its launch last November, it was renewed for a second season.

Produced by Eleventh Hour and Sony Pictures Television for Amazon Studios, Alex Rider was initially developed with a U.K. broadcaster. But, as executive producer Eve Gutierrez explains, "They didn't have the audience for the show." After an amicable parting of ways, Sony came aboard, financed and filmed all eight episodes of season one and took it to market.

Impressed by the show's high production values — it was directed by Andreas Prochaska (Das Boot, the Sky One TV series) — IMDb TV responded quickly. "We felt it was one of those obviously bar-raising shows," Anderson says. "When we realized we were going to be their first original, that was a very exciting moment for us," Gutierrez recalls.

She was concerned, though, about how the platform would handle a largely finished product — broadcasters usually prefer to be involved with a series from its inception.

"But in our creative conversations with Lauren, it was immediately evident she had clicked with the same things that we love about the show," Gutierrez continues. "What could've been a strained process was actually the beginning of the fundamental coming together on what we wanted the show to be."

This spring, look for Moment of Truth, a five-part docuseries about the 1993 murder of James Jordan, father of basketball legend Michael Jordan. "You don't have to be an NBA fan to be intrigued by this story," Pirozzi says. The elder Jordan was found shot to death by the side of a road in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Set in the small town where the crime took place, the series is directed by Matthew Perniciaro and Clay Johnson and produced by Perniciaro and Michael Sherman of Bow and Arrow Entertainment. Jimmy Goodmon and Shelly Leslie of Capitol Broadcasting Company are executive producers.

"The actual incident itself was a gateway to what we feel is a much larger story about systemic issues with law enforcement, our judicial system and race," Perniciaro says. "There've been a lot of myths and urban legends we're trying to dispel in telling the story of what really happened that night."

Pernicario is excited by the access this free streaming service offers. "IMDb was a perfect home for this project because there is no barrier for entry for any viewer," he says.

On the unscripted side, Pirozzi and Anderson are thrilled to offer Judge Judy a new home. She'll be adjudicating cases for IMDb TV after 25 years as a pop-culture touchstone in syndication.

"For Judy to make the jump to an upstart streaming service, it's a huge win for us," Pirozzi says. "There are few better brand names than Judge Judy," Anderson enthuses. "She not only knows how to make great TV, but she has a mission in everything she's doing. When you watch enough of her shows, you realize she's also educating her fans along the way."

Responding via email as to why she decided to take her gavel to IMDb TV, Sheindlin says simply: "It's exciting to be a part of the future with the most forward-looking company on the planet."

Back on the scripted side, IMDb TV has announced a spinoff of the Amazon Prime crime favorite Bosch, which will air its seventh and final season this summer. It has no title yet, but series star Titus Welliver will reprise his role, and Mimi Rogers and Madison Lintz will return in theirs.

Much of the Bosch creative team will work on the new Fabel Entertainment series, which is Amazon's first spinoff. Production begins later this year.

Also in development: High School, a half-hour coming-of-age series based on the New York Times bestselling memoir by Grammy-nominated recording artists Tegan and Sara Quin, adapted by Clea DuVall for Amazon Studios and Plan B Entertainment.

The platform is also developing a reboot of the TNT crime drama Leverage (with much of the original cast) and an unscripted series based on Jessica Simpson's memoir, Open Book.

IMDb TV recently premiered Top Class: The Life and Times of the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers. The docuseries follows the team from an L.A.–area private school — whose star player is LeBron James's son, Bronny James — and its quest for a third straight state championship.

"It's not just a celebrity basketball team," Anderson says. "They're also incredibly successful in the classroom." LeBron James and Maverick Carter executive-produce for Uninterrupted, a division of James and Carter's The SpringHill Company.

For now, IMDb TV is available only in the U.S. "We're going to keep growing, and we're going to keep getting smarter about the kind of content our customers want," Eamer says. "We want to make sure we're bringing everything that would satisfy them."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2021

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