No ‘Rah-Rah Canada’ for Amazon Studios: Streamer On the Hunt for Half-Hour Formats That Aren’t Uber-Canadian

Amazon Studios wants to beef up its content library in Canada. And the quickest way to do that, according to Brent Haynes, the studio’s head of originals in Canada, is with half-hour formats.

“With the exception of ‘Three Pines,’ we are doing half-hours and that’s because they help quickly build our library. But, that is also one of the gaps in our programming,” Haynes said recently during a Content Canada session in Toronto.

“A lot of our other territories are doing one-hours and crime dramas, so we don’t need to repeat that,” he continued. “We are aware of what’s coming out around the world and we try to each make something that would help our other territories.”

In order to achieve that robust library, Haynes revealed the goal is to have anywhere from 5 to 10 shows in development at a time. “In our minds, every single one of those is going to go,” he said. “We’re not naïve to think they all will, because they fall apart and our needs change. But we’re finding because we love it, we want to make it.”

Specifically, Haynes is looking for local and unique stories that have a global appeal. What he’s not looking for are limited series or shows that are “hyper-localized” and inaccessible to mass audiences.

“We want a unique Canadian perspective on everything,” he explained. “We’re not trying to tell stories that are rah-rah Canada, or are uber-Canadian, or check boxes that say, ‘This is what’s Canadian.’ But we do want something that we feel is unique to the territory,” he continued.

“It has to hit a bar and that bar is really, really high. We know most Prime customers sign up for their free package delivery. But there’s still an expectation that they’re paying for this service. There has to be some sort of premium element to it,” said Haynes.

The executive added the general Amazon Studios model is to work backwards in terms of starting with data that models what its customers are looking for and then figuring out how to fill in those gaps.

“We’re looking to make shows that Canadians will watch based on the research and the amount of data,” he said. “The strategy isn’t to just take great pitches, which we will, but we also want pitches in this area because we know this is what we need. The strategy is to find the best of the best.”

This past April, Amazon Studios Canada revealed a slate of Canadian original productions including the return of “The Kids in the Hall” and a companion docuseries, an adult animation series called “Gary and His Demons,” comedy drama series “The Sticky,” and the aforementioned “Three Pines” starring Alfred Molina and based on the book series by Louise Penny.

Christina Wayne, who played a key role in the development of the Canadian originals strategy since joining the company in 2019, left her role as head of Canadian originals earlier this month to pursue other interests. Haynes joined the company as head of scripted series in May 2021 and was promoted this past August.

Haynes was one of several executives on hand during the two-day Content Canada event, which also boasted Spotlight Stage sessions with Paramount+, Tubi Originals and Disney Plus. Netflix Canada took the stage for a session with director of Canadian series Danielle Woodrow and manager of Canadian series Tara Woodbury; however, it was closed to press.

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