UPDATED: In a deal that is expected to dwarf any TV series to date, I hear the J.R.R. Tolkien estate has been shopping a possible series based on the late author’s The Lord of the Rings novels with a whopping price tag attached.
I hear Amazon, Netflix and HBO had been approached about the project, which comes with an upfront rights payment said to be in the $200 – $250 million range. That is just for the rights, before any costs for development, talent and production. It is a payment that has to be made sight unseen as there is no concept, and there are no creative auspices attached to the possible series. (I hear the pitch at HBO involved producer Jane Tranter whose company is partially owned by HBO and Sky but the general package has no talent attached.) On top of that, the budget for a fantasy series of that magnitude is likely to be $100-$150 million a season.
I hear that Amazon and Netflix are still in the running while HBO, home of blockbuster fantasy series Game Of Thrones, passed awhile back because of the the finances of the deal that many industry observers call “insane.” Additionally, industry sources note that there are already three great Lord Of the Rings movies and a total of six movies in the world made, along with the Hobbit films. Plus, I hear that the rights for a TV series in the Lord of the Rights do not encompass all characters and are limited.
Given Amazon’s mandate to launch a big fantasy series of the scope of Game Of Thrones, which comes directly from honcho Jeff Bezos, and Amazon’s deep coffers, the company is considered a leading contender for a Lord Of the Rings series. (For context, the price tag for the rights to Lord Of the Rings is what Bezos payed for Washington Post.) Bezos has been hands-on involved in the matters of entertainment division Amazon Studios following the purge of its top executives, led by Roy Price, and has been taking meetings and making calls to agents over the past two weeks. Amazon’s talks for a Lord of the Rings TV series were first reported by Variety.
The Lord of the Rings deal would dwarf some big-ticket series commitments Amazon has made over the last couple of years — $80 million for the six-episode Woody Allen show Crisis in Six Scenes, $70+ million for Matt Weiner’s eight-episode The Romanoffs, and $160 for two seasons of David O. Russell’s series, which now has been axed after about $40 million spent. (The last two series originally came from The Weinstein Co., which no longer has involvement in The Romanoffs)
The possible Lord of the Rings TV series is done in conjunction with Warner Bros. TV, whose film studio counterpart produced the feature trilogy in the 2000s. The TV studio would not comment on the talks, which are preliminary.
The TV series pitch comes on the heels of Warner Bros. and the Tolkien estate in July settling an $80 million rights dispute over The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings after a grueling five-year court battle.
The Tolkien estate and publisher HarperCollins filed the massive lawsuit in November 2012 against Warner Bros., its subsidiary New Line and Middle-earth Enterprises — a division of Rings’ Hobbit rightsholder the Saul Zaentz Co. — claiming copyright infringement and breach of contract over video games, online slot machines and other digital merchandising.
Launched at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy was a global phenomenon. Starring Elijah Wood, In McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Bean, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom and others, the three films combined to gross more than $2.9 billion worldwide. LOTR: The Two Towers was released in 2002, and The Return of the King arrived the following year, becoming only the second film to top $1 billion worldwide. That third installment won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay. The previous two combined to win six Academy Awards in crafts categories.
Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.