Amazon’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ TV prequel series will head back to Middle-earth

Lord of the Rings

Last week, we reported that Amazon was in a bidding war for the rights to properties related to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings and Hobbit series, with CEO Jeff Bezos personally involved in negotiations. According to Variety, Amazon had designs on producing a multi-season television series based on the books.

Bezos wants the “next Game of Thrones” (in terms of ubiquity), and now he just might have it. Amazon issued a press release today confirming acquisition of global television rights for Lord of The Rings and its intent to produce a prequel series with a multi-season commitment. It’s rare for a CEO to engage in such matters directly, but Tolkien’s work is a particularly valuable property.

The show will be produced by Amazon Studios in collaboration with the Tolkien Estate & Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema according to Amazon’s press release. Apparently, the series will “explore new storylines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring,” and the deal also includes rights for a potential spin-off series. This could turn out to 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 a la Game of Thrones or 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.

This news comes on the heels of a shakeup 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 Riggs and Conrad Price departed soon afterward, and executive Morgan Wendell jumped ship for Apple, which is looking to bolster its own original series efforts.

The Hollywood Reporter adds that there are some eye-popping numbers involved in this deal. The rights payments alone for the property are reportedly in the $200-$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. The yearly budget for a LOTR series would purportedly be in the $100-$150 million range.

Update: While Amazon’s press release describes a deal with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, Middle-earth Enterprises continues to reach out and claim it actually holds the rights to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. In any event, it appears Amazon is in the clear (from a licensing standpoint) to produce a series based around Tolkien characters.