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Why ‘The Man in the High Castle’ Could Only Work at Amazon

The Man in the High Castle, which has its second season premiere Dec. 16, was about a decade in the making, according to its producers, before it landed at Amazon Studios. The BBC had initially greenlit the adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s science fiction novel, then Syfy took it on—both with a four-hour miniseries in mind. Neither venture saw the light of day.

The show’s producers were thinking the project might work as a feature film when Amazon Studios had a look and wanted a pilot. The pilot scored well with the public, and not long after release a little over a year ago, it became Amazon’s most streamed original show.

I sat with exec producers David Zucker and Isa Dick Hackett, the latter the daughter of Philip K. Dick, a few months back at TCA. “I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say the show couldn’t be made this way anywhere else,” said Zucker, who added that Netflix might be on that very short list too. “These are buyers who put the kind of financial commitment into it and have, philosophically, support for the creative process to the degree to which they do. I think they provide all the resources you could want.”

Hackett concurs. “It’s so expensive, so ambitious,” she says. “The material is quite subversive and dark, and the iconography is not exactly mainstream. It’s a tough sell, and we couldn’t get set up anywhere else.”

Philip K. Dick, who died in 1982, never had his eye on Hollywood for his beloved book. “It was his literary masterpiece, his crown jewel,” Hackett says. “It wasn’t something he talked about adapting.”

She adds that her father did set out to write a sequel, but found it too dark a world to dwell in. “It was so depressing, getting back into the Nazi of it all,” she says. “He just decided he did not want to do it.”

The new season introduces Stephen Root (Boardwalk Empire) as the title character. Peace between Germany and Japan hangs in the balance and Amazon says the urgency to find the man in the high castle becomes even more desperate.

Friday’s New York Times has a big story on the new season, saying the show is timelier than ever, with swastikas making unfortunate comebacks in the wake of Donald Trump’s election and more minorities reporting of persecution. Writes James Poniewozik:

Against news like that, The Man in the High Castle seems both a timely provocation and a holdover from another era — an artifact from an alternative timeline in which, if you wanted to ask, “What would I do if it happened here?” you had to watch a TV show.

The producers say they don’t really have an end date in mind for The Man in the High Castle. Zucker says it can go at least five seasons. Adds Hackett: “There are endless opportunities in this world. There are so many ways to go with so many characters—you just don’t run out of options.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.