Amazon's Lord of the Rings eyeing 5 seasons, spinoff as streaming's tentpole era heats up

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Apr 5, 2018

In the biggest affirmation yet of the idea that what works for the cineplex might just work for the small screen, Amazon’s escalating commitment to the forthcoming Lord of the Rings TV series is looking as epic as anything you could expect from a major motion picture studio.

The $250 million Amazon handed over for the rights to produce streaming content set within J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth-verse may be just the start of a spending spree that will lavish a reported $1 billion on the series. In an in-depth look at Amazon’s one streaming deal to rule them all, The Hollywood Reporter came away with a basketful of new details that outline just how ambitious a project Jeff Bezos’ trip to the Shire could be.

In an agreement with the famously franchise-protective Tolkien Estate, Amazon has pledged to begin production within two years on a television series that will span a reported five years. The billion-dollar outlay for the entire project is, according to THR, “poised to be the most expensive TV show ever.”

That ten-figure sum will encompass paying the actors, funding special effects worthy of the fan expectations set by Peter Jackson’s groundbreaking film trilogy, and giving the creative team everything it needs to make it all come to life. It’s the kind of long-term entrenchment that signals Amazon — which envisioned the LOTR series as a way to control its very own Game of Thrones-style tentpole —  is doubling down on drawing eyeballs to its Prime Video service by dangling the biggest carrot it can possibly manufacture in front of the widest possible audience.

As someone who’s bankably demonstrated he can spin LOTR into a demographics-straddling cultural phenomenon, the Oscar-collecting Jackson might look like a no-brainer of a choice as a key addition to Amazon’s creative team. While there’s no official confirmation that a Jackson-Amazon marriage is imminent, THR reports that Peter Nelson, Jackson’s lawyer, “recently helped start a dialogue between Jackson and Amazon” and that Jackson could elect to sign on as an executive producer.

Nelson acknowledged Amazon’s tentpole strategy with LOTR, saying they’re “taking a page out of the [film] 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.”

Franchise titles often get a lot of additional mileage from spinoffs, and Amazon is at least entertaining that idea for LOTR. Attorney Matt Galsor, who orchestrated Amazon’s rights agreement with the Tolkien Estate, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema, “was hammering out terms that include a potential spinoff” when Amazon was nearing its original deal last fall, the report states.

For now, the two-year production window is the closest thing we have to a sightline on when we’ll see a finished product. The casting and production process for Amazon’s take on Middle Earth promises to be an interesting saga in its own right, so stay tuned for lots more details as the mist begins to clear.