Warner Bros. Television and the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien are in talks with Amazon Studios to develop a series based on the late author’s “The Lord of the Rings” novels. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is said by sources with knowledge of the situation to be personally involved in the negotiations, which are still in very early stages. No deal has been set.
The studio and the Tolkien estate have been shopping a series based on the classic fantasy novels and their assortment of hobbits, wizards, and warriors, sparking a competitive situation from which Amazon has emerged as the front runner. Representatives for Amazon and Warner Bros. declined to comment.
It is uncommon for Bezos — known to be a fan of high fantasy and science fiction — to involve himself personally in dealmaking for Amazon Studios. But talks for “The Lord of the Rings” come at an uncommon moment for the e-commerce giant’s video-entertainment division. Last month Amazon Studios flushed its executive ranks, with president Roy Price, head of scripted Joe Lewis, and head of unscripted Conrad Riggs all departing. Price’s departure came just days after he was suspended on the heels of a sexual harassment allegation made against him by a producer on the company’s original series “The Man in the High Castle.” Lewis and Riggs’ departures followed a week later.
But the pursuit of “The Lord of the Rings” is in line with a new programming mandate dictated this year by Bezos, who, months before Price departed, ordered him to shift Amazon Studios away from niche, naturalistic series such as “Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle” and toward large-scale genre programming with potential for broad international appeal. As part of that shift, Amazon canceled two series, “Z: The Beginning of Everything” and “The Last Tycoon,” and began shifting resources away from Lewis’ development team and to a unit led by event-series exec Sharon Tal Yguado. With Lewis’ departure, Tal Yguado was named head of scripted series, reporting to Price’s interim replacement, Amazon Studios COO Albert Cheng.
The fact that a “Lord of the Rings” series is being shopped by Warner Bros. marks a thaw in the relationship between the studio and the Tolkien estate, which in July settled a massive lawsuit that had dragged on since 2012. The dispute, with Tolkien’s heirs and publisher HarperCollins on one side and Warner Bros. — which produced director Peter Jackon’s live-action feature film adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings” and its prequel, “The Hobbit” — on the other, stemmed from the use characters from the movies in online slot machines and other games.
Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but a legal filing stated that no fees or costs were to be awarded by the court and that no party was entitled to recover fees or costs.