The Man in the High Castle may present an alternate history of the world after World War II, but the series is completely forward thinking. That's because it was greenlit through Amazon's pilot program, which allows users to view and provide feedback on new TV series instead of leaving it all up to network executives.
So what did showrunner Frank Spotnitz, who famously served as executive producer and writer for The X-Files, think about this more democratic TV process?
"At the time, I was very worried about it, to be honest," Spotnitz said during a roundtable interview with several reporters at New York Comic Con Friday. "You know, usually you make a pilot and nobody sees it if they don't like it. In this case, to have people vote is a little unnerving. But it actually was a great asset, because as I said, I got to think about why people responded to the show and then when we were gathering actors and crew to produce the series, we kind of had our pick because people had seen the show. They knew it was well-received, they liked it, and it was much, much easier than it normally would be to move forward."
When it got the green light, The Man in the High Castle, which depicts life in the United States as if the Allied Powers had lost World War II and the East and West Coasts were occupied by Germany and Japan, respectively, was Amazon's most-watched pilot since the series development program began, according to Deadline. Having The Man in the High Castle pilot released to the public also created the unique situation where all of those viewers could comment on the show before the rest of the series went into production.
"I have always been dumb enough to read everything online," Spotnitz said. "In this case, actually, it wasn't that helpful because most of [the comments] were so positive, but every once in a while, you read something, a question somebody has, a point somebody has and go, 'Oh, that's interesting.' I don't think you want to write for those people, but it's a tool. I'm a big believer in using tools wherever I can find them to help me tell the story."
Alexa Davalos, who plays Juliana Crane in the series, a young woman who gets swept up in the resistance movement when she receives a mysterious film reel before her sister's death, said that this inclusiveness from Amazon was not limited to viewers.
"The level of freedom in making this project come to life, the collaboration and the constant creative exchange with everyone — Frank has been amazing — and all of us, that we have a voice, we have a say in the development of our characters," Davalos said during a roundtable interview at New York Comic Con. "It's been creatively one of the most exciting things I've been a part of."
That creative freedom didn't just exist between Spotnitz and the actors but also between Spotnitz and Amazon, a dynamic that isn't always achieved in the interactions between art and commerce.
"It's more money than I've ever had to make a TV series, and then [Amazon also gave me] a lot of freedom. They interfere less," Spotnitz said. "I never asked them about this, but I almost feel like it was a conscious decision on their part. Like, I'm sure they had more notes — I know they did — but they just didn't give them. They just gave you, like, their main ones, and then they sort of trusted that you would figure out the rest, which I thought was incredibly brave, considering especially their investment in the show, and they're a new service trying to make a name. They really put a lot of trust to deliver this, so if we screw it up, that's on us."
In creating The Man in the High Castle, Spotnitz said he also had to approach the new series differently than a regular network TV show because people can binge-watch it and not wait for a new episode to air the following week. However, the fact The Man in the High Castle is based on the 1962 Philip K. Dick novel of the same name actually seems to have helped shape Spotnitz's approach to crafting the narrative of this TV show.
"I really do consider this a different form. I have nothing against the classic episodic form. I love it. Obviously, most of my career has been spent doing that. This is not that," Spotnitz said. "It is like a 10-hour movie or a novel. I look at the storytelling novelistically, and I don't feel the need to repeat situations or information. I just assume people are going to watch all 10 as one narrative."
Though Davalos admitted she is new to the whole binge-watching phenomenon, she also, rather fittingly, found the experience similar to reading a book.
"I just started this new world of binging. I couldn't wrap my head around it until recently, and now I understand that incredible impulse [of] there's just one more," Davalos said. "I think in today's day and age, we're reading novels, in a sense, by watching television in this way. So if you want to read a chapter or two or three or seven, you know, that's up to you."
Season 1 of The Man in the High Castle premieres Nov. 20 on Amazon Prime Video. The pilot is currently available to stream.
Watch The Man in the High Castle cast member DJ Qualls, who plays Juliana's friend Ed McCarthy, discuss the freedom Amazon gave the cast during the production of the show and how he adjusted to the new world of the series in this video of part of his roundtable interview at New York Comic Con below.
For more Comic Con news, check out T-Lounge coverage of New York Comic Con 2015.