Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings series is expected to be the most expensive TV show ever made, with five seasons reportedly ordered.
In November 2017, Amazon Studios announced that it had acquired the rights to JRR Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy. The deal, which saw Amazon outbid Netflix to sign on the dotted line, cost a whopping $250 million. That, however, was only for the rights to the property, with talent, production and some undoubtedly hefty post-production all still to be paid for. Such costs will not remain theoretical for long: the clock is already ticking on the deal, which requires Amazon to begin production within two years, and current estimates place the likely price of the whole series far north of $1 billion.
That figure would make small screen history, outstripping even the generous $100 million budget of Netflix’s The Crown, one of the most expensive TV shows to date.
What Amazon will get for its money is starting to become clearer, thanks to The Hollywood Reporter, who this week spoke to Greenberg Glusker attorney Matt Galsor, who was the architect behind the deal.
“This is the most complicated deal I’ve ever seen,” Galsor explains, “but it was handled relatively quickly, in a way that brought the parties together in a close relationship. It was tough, but everybody liked each other and felt like a team more as the deal closed.”
The deal with not only the Tolkien estate, but also publisher HarperCollins and New Line Cinema, reportedly covers a five-season commitment for the project. It includes the rights to the books, but also the Peter Jackson movies, with THR reporting that Amazon “may use material from the films” as the basis of whatever it ultimately chooses to create.
Amazon previously confirmed that the TV show will be a prequel, exploring new storylines preceding The Fellowship of the Ring, with the deal also allowing for a potential additional spin-off series.
The films, of course, were a New Line production, and had their own fair share of legal tussles. Tolkien originally sold his rights to United Artists, before they went to MGM and Miramax, then New Line. With the trilogy taking in $5.85 billion worldwide in cinemas, Amazon was clearly prepared for any negotiations in order to secure a franchise that is deemed highly bankable and able to bring in new viewers.
“It’s very much a creature of the times,” comments Peter Jackson’s attorney, Peter Nelson. “We are in an era where streamers are bidding up the price of programming. I think Amazon is taking a page out of the studios’ emphasis on franchises. They also are realizing that with the overproduction of television, you need to get the eyeballs to the screen, and you can do that with franchise titles.”
And what of Jackson? Nelson was not involved in last year’s talks, but has reportedly helped to start a dialogue with Amazon, with the decision up to the filmmaker whether he will be involved as an executive producer or in another capacity.
Amazon officially announces Lord of the Rings prequel series
13th November 2017
Amazon is officially making a new Lord of the Rings prequel series.
The show, which was rumoured to be in negotiations at Amazon earlier this month, will be set in Middle Earth, the home of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic, which has grown over the years from a world-renowned literary work to a blockbuster movie franchise. Its theatrical adaptations, from New Line Cinema and Director Peter Jackson, earned a combined gross of nearly $6 billion worldwide. With an all-star cast that included Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin and Orlando Bloom, The Lord of the Rings trilogy garnered a combined 17 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Amazon’s new TV adaptation will explore new storylines preceding The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in the trilogy. The deal includes a production commitment to multiple seasons, plus a potential additional spin-off series.
The series will be produced by Amazon Studios in cooperation with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins and New Line Cinema, a division of Warner Bros. Entertainment.
It shows that Amazon’s serious about its shift in focus away from smaller projects to bigger, mainstream productions that will generate as much watercooler buzz as possible. While some may debate the originality of choosing a fantasy franchise that has already been adapted for the screen, Amazon is putting its money where its confidence is: Deadline reports that the Tolkein estate (which approached Netflix and HBO) have asked for around $250 million for the deal. That does not include any development or production, but solely the rights to mount a Lord of the Rings TV show in the first place. With costs for an epic series likely to stretch to around $100 million a season, including talents and production itself, this is a gargantuan gamble for Amazon Studios.
“The Lord of the Rings is a cultural phenomenon that has captured the imagination of generations of fans through literature and the big screen,” says Sharon Tal Yguado, Head of Scripted Series, Amazon Studios. “We are honored to be working with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins and New Line on this exciting collaboration for television and are thrilled to be taking The Lord of the Rings fans on a new epic journey in Middle Earth.”
“We are delighted that Amazon, with its longstanding commitment to literature, is the home of the first-ever multi-season television series for The Lord of the Rings,” adds Matt Galsor, a representative for the Tolkien Estate and Trust and HarperCollins. “Sharon and the team at Amazon Studios have exceptional ideas to bring to the screen previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings.”
The show is expected to premiere in 2020.
Amazon in talks for Lord of the Rings TV series
4th November 2017
Amazon is in talks to develop a TV series based on The Lord of the Rings.
Amazon Studios has been undergoing a tumultuous time in recent months, as the online giant’s TV and film arm has parted ways with a wave of executives. That was kick-started by Roy Price, who was initially suspended after an allegation of sexual harassment from a producer on The Man in the High Castle. Shortly after, Amazon’s head of scripted, Joe Lewis, and head of unscripted, Conrad Riggs, also departed.
Heather Schuster is now Amazon’s head of unscripted, with Tracey Lentz appointed head of creative unscripted and Sharon Tal Yguado in charge of all scripted series. They are working alongside Albert Cheng, who was appointed as Price’s interim replacement.
The major reshuffle also comes at a time when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been pushing for a change in focus at Amazon Studios, with Bezos wanting to move away from niche projects, such as award winners Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle, and develop programming with a wider international appeal. That shift has seen both The Last Tycoon and Z: The Beginning of Everything cancelled, while deals have been made with genre stalwarts such as The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman.
A project involving The Lord of the Rings would fit right in with Amazon’s aim to reach a more mainstream audience. With Warner Bros. reportedly shopping around a series based on the novels, it is no surprise that Amazon has emerged as the frontrunner in a competitive bidding situation.
The negotiations mark a significant improvement in the relationship between Warner Bros., which produced Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films (pictured above), and the Tolkein estate, after they settled a long-running lawsuit in July, which revolved around the use of characters from the films in various games. Variety reports that Bezos himself is involved in the negotiations with Warner Bros., although talks are still in the early stages.