We’ve been hearing for months about Microsoft’s plans to bring exclusive original programming to the Xbox. Nearly two years ago Microsoft hired former CBS executive Nancy Tellum to lead Xbox Entertainment Studios (XES). Tellum has at least 12 projects she is working on, six are in production, while the other six are still in the earlier stages on the process. The first, premiering on June 13th, will be a multi-camera, multi-stage interactive live broadcast of the Bonnaroo music festival on the Xbox.
Xbox Entertainment Studios has attracted a slew of top Hollywood talent to develop its original programming slate, with names like Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott attached to two separate scripted projects based on the “Halo” franchise – but that’s only the beginning. Other shows in production include an unscripted series about international street soccer, an original drama about robotic servants in a dystopian world, and a documentary about the search for discarded Atari games in a desert landfill – which were unearthed yesterday in New Mexico – amongst several others. “We are developing premium, original content for the Xbox community which is an audience we are incredibly respectful of,” said Nancy Tellem, President of Xbox Entertainment Studios. “We believe Xbox Originals should embrace the way our fans think about traditional TV.” Tellem’s creative vision involves year-round, high-quality programs based on subjects gamers care about, with interactive features tailored to each show.
Other projects are still in development and may come in the future. The following projects have been optioned or given a pilot:
- Deadlands: Xbox Entertainment Studios has committed to a script based on the successful pen-and-paper role playing game created by Shane Lacy Hensley. “Deadlands” is a genre-bending alternative history of the Weird West, filled with undead gunfighters, card-slinging sorcerers, mad scientists, secret societies, and fearsome abominations.
- Extraordinary Believers: Xbox Entertainment Studios is developing an innovative, hybrid stop-motion show dubbed “Extraordinary Believers” (working title) with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, creators of the Emmy-Award winning “Robot Chicken,” the longest running stop-motion show on television. The executive producers on the project are Seth Green, Matt Senreich, and creators/writers/executive producers are Eric Towner and John Harvatine IV.
- Fearless: “Fearless,” (working title) is an unscripted series currently in pilot production starring Paul de Gelder, an Australian Navy bomb clearance diver and shark attack survivor who takes on an adrenaline-fueled quest to aid individuals who risk their lives to make the world a better place. “Fearless” will be produced by Australia’s International Emmy-Award winning production company, Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder (CJZ).
- Gun Machine: Xbox Entertainment Studios acquired the rights to “Gun Machine,” a hardboiled detective thriller based on the New York Times bestselling novel by Warren Ellis. Ellis will executive produce with Brett Conrad (“The Killing,” “Sons of Anarchy,” Netflix’s upcoming “Marco Polo”) who has signed on to write the pilot script about a detective tracking a serial killer who is tied to a mysterious collection of guns used in infamous New York murders.
- Untitled JASH Comedy/Variety Half Hour: In this unique comedy format developed by Xbox Entertainment Studios with JASH (a comedy collective founded by Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Tim and Eric and Reggie Watts), the biggest names in comedy will showcase the people that make them laugh. Each week, a different comedian will host/curate a show featuring new and unsung talent, in various video formats. Sarah Silverman will host the pilot episode and Daniel Kellison (“Late Night/Late Show with David Letterman,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Crank Yankers”) will executive produce. The series has a pilot commitment and will begin shooting in June.
- Winterworld: Xbox Entertainment Studios and IDW Entertainment are co-developing a limited event live-action series based on Chuck Dixon and artist Jorge Zaffino’s seminal graphic novel series “Winterworld,” in which our world has been encased in ice from pole-to-pole. The surviving humans have formed tribes that war, enslave and trade with one another in an effort to survive the infinite winter. Ted Adams and David Ozer from IDW Entertainment, and Rick Jacobs and Dave Alpert from Circle of Confusion (“Walking Dead”) will executive produce.
Currently it is believed that an Xbox Live Gold subscription will be required to view this programming. This could change in the future depending on the success of the content. While some have positioned Microsoft’s original programming as a way to compete against Netflix I don’t see it that way. Microsoft is not trying to compete against Netflix, but rather add value to Xbox owners and an Xbox Live subscription. The content Microsoft is creating is designed to appeal to its 84 million Xbox base, mostly male millennials aged 18-35. This may be one area Microsoft can compete with Sony’s PS4 in the short term.