Orcs, trolls, and wargs beware! Amazon Studios is bringing audiences back to the lands of Middle-earth with a new prequel series set before the events of The Lord of the Rings — and rumor has it that the first season will hit Prime Video by 2021.
Amazon issued a press release in November 2017 confirming the acquisition of global television rights for The Lord of The Rings and its intent to produce a prequel series with a multiseason commitment. The series is reported to “explore new storylines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring,” and the deal also includes rights for a potential spinoff series. (There’s been no official word as to whether it will also predate the events of The Hobbit, too.) Here’s everything we know about the show so far.
Target date and more
In an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Jennifer Salke — the recently installed head of Amazon Studios — divulged lots of interesting information regarding the action plan for Amazon over the next few years. The Lord of the Rings series came up, as you might expect, and Salke offered some tidbits worth sharing.
Most prominently, Salke confirmed that Amazon is targeting a 2021 debut for the series, even saying some involved parties would prefer 2020. Salke also says negotiations with Peter Jackson are ongoing, and that the two haven’t yet made a decision regarding his involvement or its capacity. She says that, instead of finding a showrunner and allowing that person to assemble a group of writers, Amazon plans to source talented writers and then elevate one to a position of leadership.
A ranger’s tale
According to Destructoid — and take this with a massive grain of salt, because nothing has been officially confirmed — the first season of the series will follow a young Aragorn (portrayed in the Peter Jackson trilogy by Viggo Mortensen) in the time preceding the events of Fellowship of the Ring.
The scoop (see below) comes from the Twitter account, which has been known to thoroughly vet sources before reporting. Destructoid theorizes that the phrasing of “first season” could imply that the series will focus on different characters each season, but there’s no information supporting that claim.
Wait, how much money?
Several months after the acquisition, more details of the deal emerged, with The Hollywood Reporter indicating that the series has a five-season commitment and a budget that will collectively amount to more than $1 billion. That massive sum — one of the largest budgets any series has ever been granted from the start — doesn’t include the spinoff series that’s also expected to come out of the primary show. The entire arrangement is contingent on the series beginning production within two years, so the project appears to be on a fast track.
Also mentioned among the reported details is the potential for “material from the films” to be used in the series, and the possibility that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchise director Jackson could also be involved in the show. According to the report, Jackson’s attorney, Peter Nelson, “helped start a dialogue between Jackson and Amazon” regarding the series. Whether Jackson gets involved is entirely up to him, the report claims.
The first reports regarding Amazon entering a bidding war for the rights to properties related to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings and Hobbit series emerged late in 2017, with CEO Jeff Bezos personally involved in those negotiations. According to Variety, Amazon had designs from the start on producing a multiseason television series based on the books, with Bezos hoping that the show can become the “next Game of Thrones” (in terms of ubiquity). While it’s rare for a CEO to engage in such matters directly, Tolkien’s work is a particularly valuable property.
The show will be produced by Amazon Studios in collaboration with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema, and could be a major coup for Amazon, which has had success with original series like Transparent and The Man in The High Castle, but has yet to produce a “must-see” series like Game of Thronesor Netflix’s Stranger Things. The yet-to-be-named series will be an Amazon Prime exclusive, and we don’t yet know when it will see the light of day.
The initial news came on the heels of a shake-up at the executive level of Amazon’s original programming division, with president Roy Price departing under the cloud of a sexual harassment scandal. Executives Joe Lewis and Conrad Riggs departed soon afterward, and executive Morgan Wandell jumped ship for Apple, which is looking to bolster its own original series efforts.
From the start, there were some eye-popping numbers involved in the deal. The rights payments alone for the property are reportedly in the $200 to $250 million range. According to the report, that payment had to be made sight unseen before a single line had been written or actor had been cast.
Updated on May 17, 2018: Added a rumor regarding the first season’s subject matter.