Lord of the Rings TV Series: Amazon Studios Boss Jennifer Salke Updates

Amazon Studios’ new head, Jennifer Salke, updates on the status of the billion-dollar Lord of the Rings television series.

Of the plethora of original content that Amazon Studios has planned, its highly-discussed The Lord of the Rings television project has become the clear focus of the news coverage; something that tends to happen when it’s revealed that the studio – which paid $250 million for the rights – will drop about $1 billion for the project, making it the most expensive small screen endeavors of all time. Consequently, the studio’s newly-appointed head, Jennifer Salke, has some updates on its progress.

Salke, who says that the studio’s new content initiative will use Amazon Prime to “create a home for talent” that ranges “across all platforms of genre,” dished to Deadline about the current state of the mysterious Lord of the Rings television project. At this (very early) point, creative meetings have been held and, in a more recent interview with THR, Salke even provides a rough projection for the Lord of the Rings TV series production and release date. As she teases:

“It’ll be in production in two years; [on the air in] 2021 is the hope. But there are other people who wish it was 2020.”

First and foremost, Salke probably wants fans to slow their roll somewhat, since the deal – despite being announced back in November – was only just recently locked down. As she explains in the Deadline interview:

“Despite all the noise around Lord of the Rings, the deal only closed like a month ago. But in the meantime, I’ve sat with Simon Tolkien for a couple of hours, and [Amazon TV executive] Sharon [Tal Yguado] has spent tons of time with them. She had spent the last couple of months meeting anyone who had said, I’m really passionate about it and I want to get in and talk about the show and what’s possible.”

The name-drop of Simon Tolkien, the grandson of mythology creator J.R.R. Tolkien, is an intriguing revelation. Of course, Simon’s father (and J.R.R.’s son), Christopher Tolkien, has long served as the inheritor of the Middle Earth authorial legacy, having curated the numerous posthumous works of J.R.R., notably the mythology’s epoch-spanning tome, The Silmarillion. Yet, Christopher is 93 years-old, and it appears that Simon – in a way akin to hero Aragorn – could finally embrace this proverbial IP throne later in life (he’s 59 himself and only just started writing within the last decade).  

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Interestingly Salke does confirm that Amazon’s work with The Lord of the Rings IP is currently contained to only one television series, describing it as “one big series.” While she doesn’t confirm the focus of the project (as rumors point to a chronicle of the early years of Aragorn,) she does confirm that, “we’re not remaking the movies, but we’re also not starting from scratch. So, it’ll be characters you love,” stopping short of confirming said characters. Yet, she does hint that considerations are being made to – like the Peter Jackson’s film trilogies – shoot the sprawling exterior of Middle Earth in the New Zealand countryside, explaining:

“I think we might be in New Zealand. I don’t know, but we’re going to have to go somewhere interesting that could provide those locations in a really authentic way, because we want it to look incredible. There’s no shortage of ambition for the project. We’ll go where we need to go to make it happen.”

At this point, we have the confirmed involvement of a Tolkien (though not yet permanent,) and a possible return to New Zealand; ideas that should delight fans. However, another major story surrounding The Lord of the Rings TV project has been the prospective involvement of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie trilogy visionary, Peter Jackson. While Jackson himself recently stated that he is not involved (at least, for now,) Salke’s comments on the Jackson matter seem more open-ended, stating:

“The Peter Jackson conversations, right now we’re right in the middle of them. It’s like, how much do you want to be involved, how little? I know there’s been some discussion, and he’s even said some things, but as far as I’m aware, the latest is that we’re just in a conversation with him about how much or how little he would be involved.” Adding, “I think you’ll see us honing in on a strategy in the next month, which might involve a group of writers. Clearly, there’ll be someone in charge, but it involves the estate and Peter Jackson, and there’s a lot of conversations.”

Discussing the project’s current creative vacancy, Salke tells THR:

“We are currently talking to writers. I have sat with three or four different groups of writers. Sharon Tal Yguado has met with many more than that. When we announced it, many agents called and with clients and British writers have come calling. There have been a lot of informational meetings about the material and about the scope of what we can do. My hope would be to put together a group of talented people, which will obviously have a leader who can embark on this big ambitious endeavor.”

Indeed, to put the current state of Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings television project into classic storyline terms, it has yet to even leave the Shire. However, barring the pessimistic possibility of it becoming a billion-dollar boondoggle, the prospect of (once-again) returning to the live-action Middle Earth is undoubtedly an exciting one. We’ll certainly be following things closely as they develop!

This article was originally published on June 11, 2018 and has been updated with new information.