The Hollywood arm of the online giant is pivoting away from dramas for adults but is struggling to define a new strategy, say people close to the company. It has alienated high-profile content creators, who say executives have proven incapable—or unwilling—to smooth out conflicts that inevitably crop up during the shooting of a television show. And questions about potential conflicts of interest on the part of Mr. Lewis and studio chief Roy Price have contributed to low employee morale, people at the company say.
When it started producing original video in a bid to attract and retain subscribers for its Prime service four years ago, Amazon boasted it wouldn’t follow typical Hollywood practices such as relying on executives’ creative instincts and would base programming decisions on data. But staffers say it has largely abandoned that approach.
“We were supposed to bring the best practices of one of the most successful companies in America to Hollywood,” said an Amazon Studios executive. “Instead, we’re getting chewed up.”
Shawn Ryan, who earlier created the award-winning police drama “The Shield,” described his time at Amazon producing the canceled drama “Mad Dogs” as frustrating and confusing. Mr. Ryan said it was standard practice at other networks to receive one set of notes from executives a day after a cut of an episode was submitted. At Amazon, that process would often take more than a week and was followed by multiple requests for changes, he said, resulting in higher costs and delays.
Mr. Price last year encouraged subordinates to buy an idea for a series called “12 Parties” from his fiancée, Lila Feinberg, said Amazon Studios employees. Some at the company said they were uncomfortable because of the apparent conflict of interest and because they believed a character in the series resembled Mr. Price.
Like Mr. Price, the character Richard Forman is a middle-aged Harvard graduate who wears leather jackets and has a Black Flag tattoo, according to a series proposal viewed by The Wall Street Journal. His younger girlfriend, who like Ms. Feinberg is a writer from New York, is named “Lita.”
Ms. Feinberg didn’t respond to requests for comment.