Carnegie Mellon University
July 18, 2016

Alumni Hope They're Binge-Worthy in Amazon Pilots

By Erin Keane Scott

Matt Bomer
CMU alumnus Matt Bomer stars in the pilot of "The Last Tycoon."

Television is a brave new world, and CMU alumni are helping to blaze the frontier.

While networks crank out hit weekly shows, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are releasing full seasons to content-hungry viewers for "binge-watching."

Amazon Studios released several new pilots in June starring three Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama alumni. Two of the pilots are hour-long dramas. "The Interestings" stars Corey Cott and Jeffrey Omura, who graduated in 2012 and 2007, respectively. "The Last Tycoon" stars Matt Bomer of the Class of 2000.

Now it's up to Amazon Prime subscribers to decide if these shows are "binge-worthy" of a whole season.

"The filming process and time frame were both similar to that of a pilot," said Bomer, who plays the leading role of Monroe Stahr in the 1930s drama, "The Last Tycoon," based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished final novel.

"What's different is that Amazon has a diplomatic process in which their members are allowed to vote for and rate a pilot," he said. "Having a pilot out there being judged solely on its own merits when the idea is that it's a 10-hour story was different for me. I'm used to stepping back from a pilot and lifting a finger to the canvas to get perspective — considering what works and what doesn't."

Amazon Prime viewers are essentially a focus group, watching and reviewing the pilots using an in-depth survey.

"I think Amazon is trying to establish its own brand with content that appeals to people," said Cott, who plays Jonah Day in "The Interestings," based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer. "They can put out shows for a niche audience because there's just so much content out there, a platform can give people exactly what they want."

For TV veterans Bomer and Omura, the shift to streaming content marks an exciting change.

"My first three years out of school there was no work in TV, and now the industry is stronger than ever because there's so much content being created," said Omura, who plays Cott's love interest, Robert Takahashi, on "The Interestings." "There's so much work. It's a really great time to be a TV actor."

As the production level of content rises, so  do the opportunities for performers to step out of their comfort zones and experiment. Amazon has proven this fact with its award-winning original series "Transparent," in which Jeffrey Tambor plays a trans-woman coming out to her family late in life.

"In my career so far, the projects I've done have been broadly accessible," Cott said, "['The Interestings'] is a little bit more niche and a bit more complex, a little darker and frankly a little more heartbreaking. I think these subscriber platforms want to tell these really honest, character-driven stories."

All three actors attribute their flexibility to skills they attained at CMU.

"The School of Drama gave me a great deal of technique with which to approach any text - classical or contemporary, stage or film," Bomer said. "Regardless of how challenging the material, I have several different angles and techniques with which to approach [the piece]. Maybe even more importantly, it instilled in me a work ethic and discipline that I find helps me a great deal in the real world."

Cott echoes that sentiment, reflecting on his time at The Purnell Center for the Arts.

"The level of work we had to do is not for the faint of heart, it's for people who are hungry," he said. "I've gained this work ethic and I now want to serve people with that hard work. The best story shapes a culture. For me, I want to tell the best stories coming from a place of service.

"There's a lot of hurt and a lot of pain in the world right now. Things happen and you look around and think, 'why am I an actor, I could be out giving my resources in a different way.' The work of storytelling is really impactful. That's my responsibility right now," Cott said.