Last month, controversy erupted online amid reports that Amazon would be spending upwards of $465 million on just one season of its much-anticipated “Lord of the Rings” series, putting it well on track to become the most expensive television show ever produced.
Speaking during an executive roundtable for The Hollywood Reporter this week, Amazon Studios Chief Jennifer Salke defended the obscene dollar amount by noting that other streaming giants are spending just as much on titles with an even smaller name recognition than Tolkien’s beloved fantasy epic, such as Netflix recently spending $469 million on two sequels for “Knives Out.”
“The market is crazy, as you saw with the Knives Out deal.” Salke said. “This is a full season of a huge world-building show. The number is a sexy headline or a crazy headline that’s fun to click on, but [the budget] is really building the infrastructure of what will sustain the whole series.”
Salke noted that numbers can instantly go sky-high when a bidding war erupts.
“But it is a crazy world and various people on this Zoom, mostly Bela and me, have been in bidding situations where it starts to go incredibly high,” she said. “There’s a lot of wooing and we have to make decisions on where we want to stretch and where we want to draw the line. As for how many people need to watch ‘Lord of the Rings?’ A lot. (Laughs.) A giant, global audience needs to show up to it as appointment television, and we are pretty confident that that will happen.”
All three of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” movies cost an estimated $280 million while “The Hobbit” prequels cost somewhere around $623 million, as noted by Indiewire, which means that Amazon will be spending half of what it cost for Peter Jackson to produce six theatrical releases over the course of a decade. In the case of Tolkien’s masterpiece, higher costs did not necessarily translate into better material, given that critics and audiences overwhelmingly favored the original trilogy. For perspective, not a single entry of “The Hobbit” series broke an 8.0 in the IMDB ratings and went no higher than 75% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Despite the large price tag, not all of it will be going to production, considering that the rights to Tolkien’s property alone cost an estimated $250 million to acquire. The show will reportedly center on the mythical Second-Age of Middle-earth during the time of the dark lord Sauron’s conquests prior to the One Ring falling into obscurity.
“This epic drama is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness,” says the show’s official description. “Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.”