Here’s how Amazon secured the rights to make its crazy expensive Lord of the Rings show

Back in the early 2000s, director Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema released their Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the world rejoiced. Then, in the early 2010s, Peter Jackson and Warner Bros. released their Hobbit trilogy, and the world was like, “Eh.” The Lord of the Rings brand has been pretty quiet since then, but it’s poised to make a big comeback, starting with the news that Amazon is spending an insane amount of money to make a TV show set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Exactly how much money are we talking? The commerce giant spent $250 for the TV rights to the property, beating out competitor Netflix. It’s reported to be spending another $250 million to produce the first two seasons of the show. And under the terms of the deal Amazon struck with the Tolkien estate, it’s already committed to making five seasons, which could drive the price up to $1 billion.

For reference, the most expensive season of Game of Thrones produced so far is season 6, which cost HBO $100 million. That’s a lot of money, but HBO only spent it after Game of Thrones had proven itself many times over. Amazon is looking to spend 10 times that right out of the gate.

How did all this come about? It started last September, when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told the (since ousted) chief of Amazon Studios Roy Price to bring him the next Game of Thrones, basically. “I do think ‘Game of Thrones’ is to TV as ‘Jaws’ and ‘Star Wars’ was to the movies of the 1970s,” Price said at the time. “It’ll inspire a lot of people. Everybody wants a big hit and certainly that’s the show of the moment in terms of being a model for a hit.”

Then came the lawyers: lawyers from Amazon; lawyers from HarperCollins, which publishes the Lord of the Rings books; lawyers from New Line Cinema, which distributed the original movies; and Matt Galsor from the law firm Greenberg Glusker, the chief architect of the deal. “This is the most complicated deal I’ve ever seen,” Galsor told The Hollywood Reporter, “but it was handled relatively quickly, in a way that brought the parties together in a close relationship. It was tough, but everybody liked each other and felt like a team more as the deal closed.”

And although he wasn’t involved in the deal, Peter Jackson’s own lawyer, Peter Nelson, later stepped in to “start a dialogue between Jackson and Amazon,” so Jackson could get involved in the series in some capacity, as well. AND THR mentions that Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the latter of whom has been cast out of Hollywood following a massive sex scandal, could get in on all this, too — they were involved in the original deal that got the Lord of the Rings movies made, and successfully sued to get paid from profits from the first Hobbit movie. There are a lot of moving parts here.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – NOVEMBER 28: Director Sir Peter Jackson emerges from from a Hobbit house before delivering a speech at the ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ World Premiere at Embassy Theatre on November 28, 2012 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

“It’s very much a creature of the times,” Nelson said of the Amazon deal. “We are in an era where streamers are bidding up the price of programming. I think Amazon is taking a page out of the 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.”

Okay, but will the series be any good, and will it scratch the itch Game of Thrones fans will have after their favorite show goes off the air in 2019? That’s what we’re wondering.

It’s hard to tell at this stage — we don’t even really know what the show will cover. According to an Amazon press release, “the television adaptation will explore new storylines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.” That makes it sound like a full-on prequel, but it’s also possible that the show could start before the proper Lord of the Rings story and work its way up to it.

In any case, Amazon will have to get moving on the show if it wants to make it — under the terms of the deal, production has to begin within two years, so we can probably expect to hear things about casting, location scouting, and behind-the-scenes talent before long.

Coincidentally, there are also rumors going around (per “a very reliable insider source” on the Disney and More blog) that Universal Studios is planning to make Lord of the Rings part of its next theme park — a Lord of the Rings Land, if you will. (There are plans for a Super Nintendo Land and another Harry Potter Land, too, for anyone interested.) Talk of a Lord of the Rings theme park has been going on for years, and if it finally comes to fruition around the same time as Amazon’s new show debuts, the Lord of the Rings comeback will be truly underway.

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