Amazon has acquired the television rights to J.R.R. Tolkien's famous fantasy universe for a multiseason television show that explores new story lines before the events of "The Fellowship of the Ring."
Amazon, on a quest for a mainstream television hit for its television and film studio, has locked up an impressive candidate in a forthcoming television series based on “The Lord of The Rings” universe.
The Seattle company said Monday that it had acquired the global television rights for J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels for “a multi-season commitment.” Amazon said its adaptation will be set in Middle Earth, the land of humans, hobbits, elves and orcs, in the period before “The Fellowship of the Ring,” and includes a potential spin-off series.
The deal is among the highest-profile moves by Amazon Studios, which produces both theatrical releases and television-length shows for viewing exclusively on Amazon’s subscription video service. The Santa Monica, Calif., unit has turned out some well-regarded productions, including TV series “Transparent” and the Oscar-winning “Manchester by the Sea.” But, analysts say, it has lacked a must-see, mainstream hit.
Sealing the Tolkien deal was likely expensive. Hollywood news website Deadline reported that the rights cost close to $250 million. An Amazon spokesman didn’t immediately comment on the deal’s terms.
Amazon finance chief Brian Olsavsky told Wall Street analysts on a quarterly earnings call last month that the company planned to increase its spending on video content, which the company doesn’t break out but is thought to be in the billions of dollars.
The announcement follows a tumultuous month at Amazon’s content arm. Studio chief Roy Price resigned in October after a producer detailed allegations that he had sexually harassed her, and some within the company were critical of Amazon brass, a male-dominated group at the highest ranks, for not moving more quickly after the allegations arose.
Two key Price lieutenants, Joe Lewis, head of scripted programming, and Conrad Riggs, who ran unscripted programming, subsequently left the company.
Albert Cheng, a former Disney executive who had been Amazon Studios’ chief operating officer, was named interim leader of the unit.
In Monday’s announcement, Sharon Tal Yguado, Amazon’s new head of scripted series, called the Lord of the Rings “a cultural phenomenon that has captured the imagination of generations of fans through literature and the big screen.”
The upcoming, unnamed series will be produced by Amazon Studios in cooperation with the Tolkien Estate and Trust; Harper Collins, which holds the rights to publication of Tolkien’s books; and New Line Cinema, the Warner Brothers unit that produced the Lord of the Rings film adaptations, released between 2001 and 2003, that went on to gross nearly $6 billion worldwide.