As Jennifer Salke Takes Over Amazon Studios, These Should Be Her Top 5 Priorities

From finding a Lord of the Rings writer to determining Transparent’s future

After spending six years at NBC, Jennifer Salke will take the reigns at Amazon Studios.
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After a four-month search, Amazon has finally found its next Amazon Studios chief: NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke, who will oversee TV and film production for the company. The position that has been vacant since Roy Price stepped down in October following sexual harassment allegations from a producer on Man in the High Castle.

Amazon talked to several TV and film execs—including Fox Television Group chairman and CEO Dana Walden (who took herself out of contention in January) and A+E Networks president and CEO Nancy Dubuc—before hiring Salke. Over the last six years, Salke helped elevate NBC from fourth place to first place among broadcasters in the 18-49 demo with hit shows like This Is Us and the Chicago franchise.

“It’s an exciting time to be a content creator, and I look forward to being on the front lines of an innovative business with storytelling at its heart,” Salke said in a statement.

Landing the coveted job was the easy part. Salke now has to tackle a laundry list of challenges for Amazon, which had been losing ground to fellow streaming services Netflix and Amazon even before the controversy that led to Price’s exit. She’s got a lot on her plate, but here are the five priorities she’ll need to address immediately as she takes the helm.

Finding talent to write and run Lord of the Rings

Now matter how Salke would like to shake things up at Amazon, her top priority has already been dictated by Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, who decreed last September that Amazon’s TV priority is finding huge global hits like Game of Thrones. In November, Bezos then put his money where his mouth is by nabbing rights to turn Lord of the Rings into a TV franchise, throwing down $250 million—though that figure could reach a whopping $1 billion with production costs.

But the deal was made without anyone in place to determine the course of the franchise or steer the ship, as David Benioff and D.B. Weiss did on Game of Thrones (and will do so again when they create a new series of Star Wars films). Before Salke makes any other moves, she’ll need to determine which person or team to entrust with a franchise that—for better or worse—will define her Amazon Studios reign.

Determining the future of Transparent—and Amazon’s film deal with Woody Allen

Price may be gone, but the company still has at least two big issues to grapple with as a result of the #MeToo/sexual harassment movement.

Salke will need to decide how—or even if—to proceed with Transparent in light of the sexual harassment allegations surrounding series star Jeffrey Tambor. He said in November that “given the politicized atmosphere that seems to have afflicted our set, I don’t see how I can return to Transparent” for its fifth season. While creator Jill Soloway was considering the possibility of continuing the show without Tambor, no final decision had been made, and Salke will have to determine the fate of the series that helped put Amazon Studios on the map.

On the film side, there’s the thorny issue of the five-film deal Amazon made with Woody Allen in 2016. Dylan Farrow’s long-standing accusations that Allen molested her when she was 7 have gained new traction, leading many actors to distance themselves from the writer-director, including some stars of the second film under his Amazon deal, A Rainy Day in New York. Amazon is considering cutting its Allen deal short, but once again, the decision will be Salke’s.

Hitting reset on Amazon’s comedy brand

No matter what happens with Transparent, Amazon is changing up its comedy strategy, moving away from quirky comedies like One Mississippi, I Love Dick and Jean-Claude Van Johnson (all of which were recently canceled). The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has been a success, winning two Golden Globes last month, but Salke will need to work the same magic she did at NBC, where she rebuilt its comedy lineup with shows like Superstore and The Good Place. She needs her own version of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which ironically, Salke shepherded at NBC; the network picked up the series, but determined its comedy lineup at the time wasn’t strong enough to launch it, which led to the series being sold to Netflix instead.

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