Why HBO Passed on The Lord of the Rings TV Series

Amazon’s recent coup of The Lord of the Rings television series was apparently achieved after HBO passed, and now we know why.

The recent news that Amazon will work with Warner Bros. to adapt author J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth mythology of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as a television series sent shockwaves through fandom. While such a thing is seen by many as a major achievement for the surging Amazon Prime streaming platform, it seems that cable giant HBO felt differently about the deal.

When the $250 million deal to procure the lucrative, venerable and blockbuster movie franchise-spawning Tolkien property was on the bidding table, Richard Plepler, CEO of premium cable giant HBO, revealed that there wasn’t any interested in adding it to the network’s impressive lineup of original programming. As Plepler stated (via Variety) at the Business Insider’s Ignition 2017 media conference on Wednesday:

“I’d rather own our IP [intellectual property] 100%… and I’d rather have the ability to work with a product that is inextricably linked to our brand.”

Adding of Amazon’s apparent nonchalance over the property’s exorbitant rent rate:

“If I’m Jeff Bezos, that’s Monopoly money.”

One would think that with its global serial centerpiece in the quasi-medieval Game of Thrones rounding what will be its eight and final season, that a Tolkien-adapted series is the perfect genre-matching occupant for that imminent vacancy. However, Plepler clearly believes that such a series would have become a white elephant… err, oliphant.

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Interestingly, Plepler also pointed out that HBO will actually stand to benefit from Amazon’s Tolkien endeavor, thanks to a web of corporate connections. That’s because co-producing company Warner’s New Line Cinema happens to exist under the same Time Warner corporate umbrella as HBO, meaning that profits from the Middle Earth series will – in some manner – be distributed to the premium cable channel.

However, Plepler implied that HBO’s disinterest in the Middle Earth series is also attributed to the network’s desire to proactively set the standard for the zeitgeist’s new fixation, “like The Sopranos did, like Game of Thrones did,” rather than ride waves started by other innovative forces. Indeed, he also points out that HBO’s imminently returning Michael Crichton-adapted sci-fi series, Westworld, pulled an average of 13 million viewers, doubling what the ultra-popular global hit Thrones managed to achieve in its freshman year. Thus, it does appear that HBO is satisfied with what’s currently on its plate.

Regardless, the possibilities and prospects for Amazon’s Middle Earth-set series are exciting. Plus, due to the pure amount of literary source material available from The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, along with supplemental texts from the author’s son, Christopher Tolkien, such as historical chronical The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin, perpetual inspiration has already been provided.