Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy gave the world an epic fantasy adaptation unlike anything we had seen before. The films were triumphs of fantasy worldbuilding that transported fans into the heart of Middle-earth and paved the way for adaptations like HBO’s Game of Thrones. Now Amazon hopes to compete with George R.R. Martin’s fantasy universe by returning to J.R.R. Tolkien’s.
Amazon announced in November that it had acquired the rights to create a Lord of the Rings TV series, just months after CEO Jeff Bezos reportedly challenged Amazon Studios executives to find the next Game of Thrones. The show is still in very early stages of development, but if it comes out in the next two to three years, it could find itself going up against one or more Game of Thrones spinoffs underway for HBO. Here’s what we know so far.
Lord of the Rings TV series news
While Amazon has confirmed it is working on a Lord of the Rings TV series, we know very little about what story it might tell. The company revealed the series would be set prior to Fellowship of the Ring—before Frodo hits the road on his quest to chuck the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Amazon has already promised multiple seasons of the show and a possible spinoff series set in Middle-earth.
According to Deadline, Amazon paid close to $250 million just for rights to the property. That’s a staggering number, especially when you consider the total production budgets of most major blockbusters are cheaper. Sharon Tal Yguado, head of scripted series for Amazon Studios, said development of the show would be a collaborative effort with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line.
“We are delighted that Amazon, with its longstanding commitment to literature, is the home of the first-ever multi-season television series for The Lord of the Rings,” Matt Galsor, a representative for the Tolkien Estate and Trust and HarperCollins, said as part of the initial announcement. “Sharon and the team at Amazon Studios have exceptional ideas to bring to the screen previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings.”
Lord of the Rings TV series cast
The Lord of the Rings TV series doesn’t have a writer or director, much less a cast, but that hasn’t stopped some Middle-earth veterans from chiming in.
Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, told BBC Radio2 host Graham Norton that he’d be game to come back as the gray wizard—though he has yet to be asked to reprise the role. The 78-year-old actor joked, “Gandalf is 7,000 years old, so I’m not too old.”
Gimli actor John Rhys-Davies, meanwhile, is siding with fans who don’t like the idea of another Lord of the Rings adaptation so soon after Peter Jackson’s definitive retelling.
“It’s not about doing it better, it’s about making more money, that’s all,” Rhys-Davies told Den of Geek. “If they think they can make more money, then they will.”
Lord of the Rings TV series plot
While we don’t know what story the Lord of the Rings TV series will tell, we can make some educated guesses as to where it could go. Aragorn, Legolas, Gandalf, Gimli, and even our Hobbit friends were around long before they volunteered to save Middle-earth. Frodo and Sam likely spent much of that time reading, gardening, eating, and doing other respectable Hobbit things that’d be pretty boring for TV.
But Tolkien’s ancillary works elaborate on more interesting backstories for Gandalf and Aragorn. Aragorn’s mother brought him to the elf city of Rivendell when he was just 2 years old after an Orc arrow killed his father. Elrond fostered young Aragon and kept his identity secret to protect the future king of Gondor. In his early years, Aragorn went on adventures with Elrond’s sons, befriended Gandalf, and fought preliminary battles against Sauron and his allies. Some of this background is mentioned in Lord of the Rings—remember the scene where Aragorn reveals he fought alongside King Théoden’s father?—but much of it has never been explored on screen.
Gandalf also did a great deal of adventuring beyond the main storylines of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit trilogy already dabbled in some of that history, including Gandalf’s journey to confront an evil force known as the Necromancer at the enemy fortress Dol Guldur.
Of course, there’s no guarantee Amazon will anchor its series in the backstories of familiar characters. The show will be “based on” Tolkien’s work. That leaves the door open for a looser reimagining of characters or events Tolkien merely mentions.
Lord of the Rings TV series release date
The Lord of the Rings TV series does not yet have a projected release date. Given that HBO bought the television rights to Game of Thrones in September 2008 and it didn’t appear on TV until spring 2011, we’re expecting a minimum of two to three years of development and production time.
HBO drops new ‘Westworld’ Season 2 photos for you to analyze and obsess over
Evan Rachel Wood is not your Season 1 Dolores anymore
We are so very close to returning to Westworld, which premieres on April 22. HBO just released the very first new images and they are as tantalizing as they are gorgeous.
Some include interesting new developments that hint at where Season 2’s plot will go:
Here we see Maeve with her human capture, as we’ve seen bits of in the trailer.
But something we haven’t seen much of yet is evidence that Maeve goes back to Westworld. Presuming this isn’t a flashback, we’ll see her in the new host-ruled park again.
Talulah Riley had a pretty minimal role in Season 1 as the cheerful host who greeted guests during the flashback scenes. But Deadline reported that she would be taking on a bigger, lead role in Season 2: “She will prove to be one of the last faces many guests will ever see.”
Bernard and corporate shill Charlotte teaming up together? Say it ain’t so, Bernard!
The relationship between Dolores and Teddy is definitely about to take an interesting turn.
And here’s a look at the rest, which include new and returning cast members (who are confirmed not dead):
Welp, now we know why ‘Good Girls Revolt’ was canceled
Jeff Bezos’ Hollywood dreams aren’t just coming true they’re paying off.
Reuters has acquired Amazon financial information that for the first time provides insight into just how profitable and widely watched Amazon’s Prime Originals and streaming service are. Significantly, the documents shed light on the financial strategy of Prime Originals — specifically, how Amazon’s entertainment venture contributes to the growth of its Prime subscriber base, and overall subscription business profitability.
Amazon has never released statistics on its total Prime subscriber numbers. But according to the documents, Amazon Prime has a total U.S. audience of about 26 million viewers, which includes its originals as well as shows it licenses from other companies.
Prime Originals’ top television shows drove 5 million new Prime subscriptions by early 2017, according to the leaked documents. Reuters notes that using entertainment programming to draw customers to a Prime subscription is a key proponent of Amazon’s business strategy, a strategy that Jeff Bezos spoke to at a 2016 technology conference. Bezos said at the same conference that users who come to Prime through entertainment are more likely to convert to full-fledged subscriptions through free trials, renew subscriptions annually at higher rates, and even buy more products. So a Prime subscriber drawn in through Originals programming is a valuable one.
And Amazon knows it.
The documents show that Amazon calculates a direct return on investment for each show, based on what it costs to produce versus how many Prime subscriptions it drives. For example, The Man in the High Castle cost $72 million to produce and market, but drove 1.15 million new Prime subscribers. That comes out to a cost of $63 per new Prime subscriber — which is far less than the annual Prime fee of $99. Cha-ching!
The show Good Girls Revolt didn’t achieve similar success in converting viewers to subscribers. It cost $81 million to produce, but only drove 52,000 “first streams” (i.e. new viewers) on Amazon. That made its cost per new customer $1,560 — more than ten times the cost of a one year prime subscription.
Guess which show is still on the air.
(It’s ‘High Castle‘ — Good Girls Revolt was canceled after its first season despite a massive outcry from fans. Now, we know a bit more about why).
Reuters provides a handy graph to illustrate the direct comparison between a show’s overall cost, and its cost per new subscriber.
Critics have questioned Amazon’s programming decisions, saying at times that they were driven by sexism, at times that it was the experiment of a Hollywood outsider. But these financials show that there is indeed a method to Amazon’s madness.
However, is there a downside to evaluating shows based on the new viewers they bring in, as opposed to how well they’re satisfying existing customers? The documents don’t reveal whether this is part of the cancel vs. renew equation. But for loyal Amazon subscribers and viewers, it’s not a good look.
Whether you approve of Amazon’s apparent new viewer-to-subscriber business strategy, one thing’s for sure: Amazon’s entertainment venture is paying off, big time.
We’re already invested in the ‘Rise’ companion web series
NBC’s Rise — a new show about a group of high school students putting on a musical and their trials and tribulations — is about the kids who are stars. The companion web series, however, focuses on an entirely different part of high school theater: The understudies.
The Understudies‘ digital videos will follow students not at the forefront of Stanton High School’s production of Spring Awakening. Though we find out about the group through Michael (Ellie Desautels), we’ve already got a core cast of stage-starved misfits ready to charm.
The first installment of Understudies isn’t super subtle, focusing mainly on one girl who thinks she deserves a lead in the musical because she put in time with the teacher and did tech for a whole year (tech ≠ acting, so not sure where that experience was going). Instead of plotting any ill will against the main leads, the understudies hang out, bond, and play a game of Never Have I Ever.
The Understudies will total nine episodes throughout Rise‘s first season. Who knows, if the show gets renewed, some of them may get a shot at a lead.
Rise airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.