AT AMAZON STUDIOS, a sprawling epic series has become a commodity most precious. And so the streaming service that first launched with a show about the political swamp of Washington (“Alpha House”) is now headed to the Shire.
Amazon announced Monday that it has obtained the television rights for “The Lord of the Rings” fantasy book series. Under the deal, which includes a multi-season production commitment and a potential spinoff, Amazon’s tales from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth will effectively be a prequel to “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
“‘The Lord of the Rings’ is a cultural phenomenon that has captured the imagination of generations of fans through literature and the big screen,” Sharon Tal Yguado, head of scripted series for Amazon Studios, said in a statement, adding: “[We] are thrilled to be taking ‘The Lord of the Rings’ fans on a new epic journey in Middle Earth.”
Amazon Studios will produce the series while working with the Tolkien estate and trust, HarperCollins, and the Warner Bros. division New Line Cinema. (Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
“We are delighted that Amazon, with its long-standing commitment to literature, is the home of the first-ever multi-season television series for ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ ” Matt Galsor, representing the Tolkien estate and trust and HarperCollins, said in the statement.
The announcement marks the studio’s biggest acquisition since former Amazon Studios president Roy Price resigned last month while on suspension and facing sexual harassment allegations. Amazon Studios chief operating officer Albert Cheng was named interim president.
Under Price, Amazon Studios had made cultural inroads since 2014 with such series as Jill Soloway’s dramatic comedy “Transparent” and the musical comedy “Mozart in the Jungle,” both of which have won Golden Globes.
Over the past year, though, some programming decisions began to reflect a change in course. Amazon canceled two female-centered period dramas: The ’60s-set “Good Girls Revolt” was not renewed for a second season in December, and the Zelda Fitzgerald series “Z: The Beginning of Everything” was axed this fall when the studio reversed itself after a surprise renewal.
Bezos reportedly told Price to shift the programming focus toward “high-end drama series with global appeal” in the vein of “Game of Thrones,” Variety reported in September.
Galsor said in his statement that “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.” That suggests that the streaming service will have creative liberty to go beyond the well-known adventures of Frodo Baggins.
Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning trilogy adaptation grossed nearly $3 billion worldwide.