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Amazon Comes of Age With ‘Red Oaks’

Amazon studios’ coming-of-age comedy series Red Oaks features a star-studded cast, which includes Craig Roberts, Richard Kind, Jennifer Grey and Paul Reiser. Grey, who starred in the hit 1987 fi lm Dirty Dancing, and Reiser, best-known for his role in the 1990s sitcom Mad About You, spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about their new series, as well as how OTT players such as Amazon are changing the traditional television marketplace. An edited transcript follows.

NTV:Given the multitude of projects being developed for both traditional television and for the digital platform, what drew you to Amazon Studios andRed Oaks?

Jennifer Grey: I was at home raising a family, so in order to take me from being there for pickups and dropoffs, I needed to find good material and good people, and this came along. The writing was spectacular, and David Gordon Green, Greg Jacobs, Joe Gangemi wrote the script, and Stephen Soderbergh is the executive producer, so it featured great filmmakers and great actors.

Paul Reiser: Sometimes you get a great part and not great people, or vice versa, but here you have a great script and the cast is full of interesting people. Once in a while you get a hunch and say to yourself this will be good, and it surpassed our expectations.

NTV:Both of you are veterans of traditional broadcast television, butRed Oakswill be carried on OTT service Amazon Prime Instant Video. What does Amazon bring to the table?

PR: It’s a really cool time for television. As you said there are so many more outlets for shows, and the quality gets to rise. Suddenly, Steven Soderbergh is doing television, and even this isn’t really television — Amazon a year ago was just books and gardening supplies, and now it’s offering comedy. You don’t get any sense that they’re new to this world — it was like working for a great studio that’s been doing this forever, and they are attracting great filmmakers and great projects.

JG: They have great taste and they are moving toward creating their own brand of material and really doing it their own way. I’m always impressed by people who decide to break the rules and say ‘I’m going to try this,’ then get the best of the best and make sure everyone has a really good time.

NTV:BeyondRed Oaks, are you working on any other projects?

PR: I’m going to be in the new Will Smith movie, Concussion, that’s coming out in Christmas. Of course, we’re hoping for Red Oaks season two.

JG: I have a teenager at home so I have my work cut out for me. I’m looking for another job to get me out of the house. (Laughs.)

NTV:At this point in your careers, do you have a preference of working in the movie field or on television?

JG: I’m all about the material. If its good material, I don’t care about the size of the [screen] — I care about the material and who I get to act with.

PR: At this point, it’s hard to know the difference. This felt like a movie — we went away for eight weeks on location so it felt like a movie. Nowadays people watch movies on a phone and TV shows on large screens — the worlds have so melded.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.