Take Five: Kahane Cooperman Goes Behind the Scenes of Amazon’s ‘The New Yorker Presents’

Executive producer and showrunner Cooperman discusses the unique process of creating Amazon’s latest series.

by Andrew Greene

In many ways Amazon Studios was conceived to break rules and veer from the norm. With The New Yorker Presents, a docuseries produced by Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney, Conde Nast Entertainment and Jigsaw Productions, Amazon has broken its own streaming model, releasing two episodes every week rather than its entire season allotment.

Tasked to run the ship flying several masts was executive producer/showrunner Kahane Cooperman, who turned a 12-week gig as field producer for The Daily Show into 11 primetime Emmys over 18 years, much of it as the show’s co-executive producer.

Over the course of our e-mail conversation, Cooperman told us what it was like to create and assemble such a unique TV show, gifting us with a glimpse at the fascinating behind the scenes process.

This is a show that can pretty much do anything it wants with each installment. How do you choose what makes the cut episode by episode?

I took an unusual approach to building each episode. Instead of structuring each one ahead of time, I had the idea to create a “bank” of all of our films first. In addition to considering subject matter, I wanted to see how each film turned out stylistically and how watching them made you feel before grouping them together into episodes. So we spent the summer making more than 50 short films with both our in-house filmmaking teams and our outside established filmmakers. Once we had our “bank” of films, I treated them like a “DJ” might treat songs in terms of the flow and structure of our episodes.

Is there a traditional writer’s room?

No.

What does being a showrunner for such a non-traditional show entail?

You are correct — this is an unusual show and there wasn’t an established model to follow. As showrunner, on a macro-level, I needed to build a machine that could manage the production of a huge number of high-quality films, both in-house and out-of-house all at the same time. Of course, we had an outstanding team of people helping make this happen.

But at the heart of the show are these brilliantly written pieces by The New Yorker writers and the visions of these immensely talented filmmakers, who would be expressing their own take on the original print stories. I was responsible for making sure the intent and vision of both The New Yorker magazine and the filmmakers were respected, while creatively shaping the show as a whole.

As it’s obviously intended, the show really feels like a magazine. Does the TV production mirror a magazine’s editorial process?

I have never worked on a magazine so can’t speak to that specifically but since The New Yorker Presents was made in collaboration with The New Yorker (and Jigsaw Productions, Conde Nast Entertainment, and Amazon Prime Video), I had this wonderful window into that world and was so blown away (and not surprised) by the magazine’s process and high standards on absolutely all fronts. In fact, every film we made was rigorously fact-checked by the magazine’s fact-checking department.

Do you meet with writers for The New Yorker or just approach filmmakers and artists you admire?

No, we didn’t meet with the writers (unless they were on-camera which is the case in a few of our films). However, whenever possible for our centerpiece films, we’d have this great phone call early in the process that included the TNY writer, TNY editor, filmmaker, myself and some of my TNYP colleagues — that exchange of thoughts and ideas was always one of my favorite moments on the job.

We reached out to filmmakers and artists we admired and in some cases, already knew. I mean we were approaching people about a project with The New Yorker and Alex Gibney so, from the outset, people were really excited by the concept, even if they weren’t quite sure what it would look like in the end. It wasn’t a really hard-sell — the biggest challenge was the schedule.

Why was The New Yorker Presents the right move for you following The Daily Show?

I was originally hired as a field producer at The Daily Show in 1996 because of my documentary background — I had gone to film school, worked for Albert Maysles and made a few of my own docs. I never expected that initial 12-week gig at The Daily Show to become such a significant and amazing chapter of my life. I spent 8 of my 18 years there as the co-executive producer — and it was truly fantastic but I had been yearning to stretch my doc and storytelling muscles for years. I don’t think I could have dreamt up a better move for me than The New Yorker Presents.

What’s it like working with Amazon? How hands-on are they? Are there any limits to the content?

Joe Lewis and Ryan Andolina, our execs at Amazon Prime Video, have been great. Out of the gate, we were being encouraged to “take risks” — and that’s not something you often hear from networks. There were no taboo topics. Both Joe and Ryan have been really excited about this show and very supportive throughout the process. I might add that no one gave more notes, but they were thoughtful, smart notes and when we disagreed, they were more than open to a healthy discussion.

You could theoretically get just about anyone on this show. Who’s your dream person to star or produce or write or appear in a segment?

Season one is already packed with so many dream-list people. I do have a dream list in progress for season two. But I have to say number one on my dream list is to actually get a season two!

You won 11 Emmys for The Daily Show. How many are you going to win for The New Yorker Presents?

I appreciate that you think TNYP could be in the running.

The New Yorker Presents premieres February 16 on Amazon, with two half-hour episodes released every Tuesday for five weeks.

Originally published at brief.promaxbda.org.

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