Making TV shows and movies is expensive – that’s common knowledge. The actual price-tags attached are often eye-watering: The most expensive movie ever made, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides cost an estimated 378.5 million USD. Released in 2011, it somewhat narrowly beat out anoter PoC movie: At World’s End cost about $300 million to make. That’s already pretty disturbing to people who earn normal paychecks, but what about TV shows?
Sure, an individual episode would be cheaper, but when a show runs long enough, the costs will go up considerably. Shows like Friends and ER exceeded 10 million USD per episode at their peak – for a 20-40 minute episode, that’s just baffling.
The new Lord of the Rings show is set to cost upwards of 1 billion USD – though what exactly this billion pays for isn’t known yet. Most likely it’s at least one season, which, assuming that there’s 20 or so episodes to it, would mean that each episode would cost roughly 50 million USD.
Amazon and Netflix were in a bidding war over the rights to the novels – they’ve changed hands several times since their actual release in 1954 and 1955. Amazon ended up paying a quarter of a billion dollars to the Tolkien estate, publisher HarperCollins and New Line Cinema.
The deal was made in 2017 and has some pretty specific instructions – filming had to commence within 2 years of the deal being made, and a minimum 5-year commitment means that we will see at least five seasons of the show.
New Line and Warner Bros – responsible for the movies – never had the TV rights to the books, however according to the deal that Amazon made, they now not only have that, but also some rights to materials created exclusively for the films. Peter Jackson is not involved, though odds are he too is going to get a payout at some point of the project.
The books were once believed to be utterly unfilmable – a series of animated movies in the 70s and 80s all but proved that, as they were completely unsuccessful (we’ve seen them – they’re really not good), however that changed when Peter Jackson got his hands on them.
Because of the stipulations of the deal made, November 2019 is the latest that production can begin, despite rumours that it will be sooner than that. That would set the release date somewhere in early 2020 – regardless of when it will air, we already know that it will be exclusive to Amazon’s Amazon Prime Video service – their rival to Netflix.
If you’re wondering what the series will cover – it will focus on storylines preceding the Fellowship of the Ring. For those not familiar with the books: This could mean anything between the Hobbit and the first movie of the LoTR series, or even before that – in addition to the Hobbit book and LoTR books, there are several more titles that haven’t yet gotten any screen exposure at all. The biggest book about Middle Earth that hasn’t been featured yet would be the Silmarillion – it has one flaw compared to the others though: It reads more like a history textbook than a story. Adapting that into a show would be difficult, though it would set a great backdrop for a series set before Bilbo and co embark on their adventures.
A rather popular rumour has it that the show won’t be exclusively based on published books at all, and instead feature some of Tolkien’s notes and unfinished writings, of which there are plenty. Last but not least: If the show does well (and a five season commitment does show some faith in the show) Amazon even has the right to a second spin-off show. In other words: If we’re lucky, we’ll get all the LoTR goodness we could possibly hope for.
Amazon hasn’t announced any cast, writers or showrunners yet, so we’ll have to hold tight for now – odds are they’ll release details just before production starts. With the tight time-frame the contract set them, that won’t be too far off for sure! Who knows, if the series really does well, we might even get a AAA-video game spin-off. Between the possibility of that and the Marvel movies, all our childhood dreams really did come true!