How Did the Rings of Power Happen?

How Did the Rings of Power Happen?

That’s a question that is going to be asked for a good long while.   

I can’t think of anything they got right at all.  The casting is terrible, and they are all unknowns except for Sir Lenny Henry, and I can hear the chorus of owls going ‘who?’ through my computer. He’s playing the old, magic negro hobbit and I’m afraid he’s been a has-been for a *while.  This was a $500 million dollar series and none of it could be spared for somebody anyone has heard of. How about Chris Hemsworth as Sauron? Or Elizabeth Olsen as Galadriel?  Sure, you can argue with my off-the-cuff suggestions, but you know what you can’t argue with?  The fact that you’ve heard of them. Nobody has heard of ANY of the show’s leads.  This is simply another facet of the Fool’s Parade Amazon is dancing in now.

Amazon can only make a show about the appendices, they really need the rights to the Silmarillion to finish anything interesting, particularly the Fall of Numenor. And they don’t have those rights.  Why start a project when you don’t hold the rights to the best parts of the story?

I decided to go back over the press announcements and more reliable rumors trying to piece this mystery together.

This whole mess started as a vanity project.  I mean it couldn’t be anything else, could it?  Amazon Prime is at maximum saturation, it wouldn’t have mattered if they had produced something as big as Game of Thrones, there would not have been any new subscriptions from it.  From a business perspective, this was pointless.

That said, the timing looked pretty good to take over the TV fantasy market.  Game of Thrones was ending its legendary run.  The market was going to be open.

Now here is the thing you have to remember about Amazon.  They are always throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks.  It’s just how Bezos does business, he wants as many data points as possible.  So, when he set out to have his own Game of Thrones, he didn’t put all his chips in one pile.  There were going to be two major fantasy series.  One geared for families and another for adult content.

The adult content show was going to be a Conan show and they had made the superb choice of Ryan Condal to be the showrunner.

Slightly before this, the Tolkien Estate had gone into arbitration with the Saul Zantz company and kind of got hurt.  For labyrinthine legal reasons, the Tolkien Estate was required to put the Appendices at the back of Return of the King up for sale.  And for other reasons it had to be a TV series.  But the Tolkien Estate was NOT required to sell those TV rights to the Saul Zantz Company.  Christopher apparently said, fine anybody but you, and it was announced that those rights were for sale. 

After Amazon went through a lot of people with proven track records, they signed Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne, (who have nearly non-existent IMDB credits) to be the showrunners. They do have a close association with JJ Abrams and he would be a close consultant. Their pitch was for (according to rumor) a series based on the Fall of Numenor.  You have no idea how much I would like to see that.

Amazon bought the rights to the Appendices for $250 million in 2017 directly from the Tolkien estate and didn’t take a close look at the veto rights that Christopher Tolkien automatically had. Incidentally, grandson Simon Tolkien is claiming that this was his vision from the start but since Christopher was still alive at the time, I have serious doubts.

Now it gets very murky.  Amazon announces that it has these rights and there are words to the effect that they will be remaking the Lord of the Rings as a mini-series. 

Here comes the guesswork on my part.  

Bezos is a software billionaire who thinks like a software billionaire.

Ever since Microsoft infringed all over Intergalactic Digital Research to create MS-DOS, the model has been, infringe on your target, wait for them to sue you, then spend them into the ground in court and take over his whole business.  

I suspect (but can’t prove) that Jeff Bezos decided to do that with the Saul Zantz Company.  The rights were supposed to be reverting to the SZC soon, and they seemed willing to license those rights to Amazon but I suspect Bezos wanted to own them outright.  So, during the series, they would infringe on the IP, Saul Zantz would have to sue, and Amazon would spend it to death in court until they owned the whole Saul Zantz company to include the Tolkien IP.

It was only after this strategy was embarked on that an entertainment lawyer was consulted.  He informed Amazon that entertainment copyright legal precedents are different from software copyright precedents, and it won’t work.   You won’t be getting sued by Saul Zantz, you’ll be getting sued by Warner Brothers and they are (at the time) owned by AT&T.  They aren’t going to run out of court money, and you will end up paying somewhere around $500 million. If you’re lucky.

Then #MeToo swept through Hollywood like a typhoon.  The head of Prime Video got caught up in it and had to be fired.  Jennifer Salke was brought in to start making Woke content and one of her first decisions was to shitcan Conan on grounds of toxic masculinity.  Put a gigantic pin in that one, we are circling back to it.  She replaced it with Wheel of Time which is almost but not quite as big a disaster as The Rings of Power.

Anyway, when Conan got shut down. Scrapping the whole fantasy project would have been a good idea at that point but rather than admit the size of its error. Amazon pushed forward, still intent on buying up the Saul Zantz company.  And SZC was receptive to the idea and was looking forward to selling itself for over a billion dollars. 

Warner Brothers for its part announced and began production on Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim, an animated film that would meet the requirements to maintain Warner’s license to Lord of the Rings. Saul Zantz briefly insisted the rights to the Lord of the Rings had reverted, Warner replied, see you in court.  

The Saul Zantz company went back to Amazon and shrugged its shoulders in resignation.  Bezos’s infidelity became public knowledge around then to include photographs.  Honestly, that kind of thing goes over badly in the world of high finance.  There is a certain view of, you should have managed things better with your actual wife. Get her a pool boy or something.  Instead, you made an unholy mess of things, Jeff. 

Bezos understood and stepped down as CEO to become Chairman of the Board in 2019 shortly after he wedding his mistress.

2019 was also the year that Game of Thrones ended in complete disaster.  A certain amount of optimism on Amazon’s part was understandable.  And even a bit of schadenfreude, although that would get paid back by an order of magnitude.

Covid slowed down everything, but Amazon finally got their Lord of the Rings into production.  

Warner Brothers for its part has had its own disaster with the launch of HBOmax.  There was supposed to be a new Game of Thrones show headlining it and they can’t get anything off the ground.  WB shot a $30 million pilot that will never see daylight.

Amazon presses on with Wheel of Time and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.  

The first of Amazon’s big fails was Wheel of Time.  There had simply been too much Woke and too much feminism injected to maintain any kind of belief that it was Robert Jordan’s story or world.

The thing is Wheel of Time, while expensive to buy and produce is at the end of the day, an acceptable failure.  The losses weren’t that bad.

The budget for Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is insane.  It is now, without question the most expensive TV show in history.  Although I strongly suspect what might be more insane is how big of a trap Amazon is in for doing business with Bad Reboot. 

If McKay and Payne followed the Bad Reboot business model, and I see no reason to think they didn’t, then their first step was to spend as much of their budget as Earthly possible upfront.  The next part of the business plan is to make ending the relationship too painful to end. Because they got a five-year pre-commitment from Amazon, they may well have been able to inject the Standard Bad Reboot Brutal Cancelation Fee into their contracts. Secret Hideout’s cancelation fee for Star Trek was $400 million.  

Firing these guys will mean that even canceling The Rings of Power, will mean that the show still cost about a billion dollars in total at the end of the day, so we may as well continue marching in the Fool’s Parade. At least we’ll have some content at the end of it.  Better to spend the money and have something than spend the money and have nothing.

Making things so, so much worse for Amazon is the fact that House of the Dragon is absolutely spanking The Rings of Power in the ratings.

How did House of the Dragon come out of nowhere, after years of Warner Brothers being unable to get a series off the ground?

This is the worst part for Amazon.

George R.R. Martin handpicked the showrunner… Ryan Condal!

That’s right, the same guy who was supposed to be making Conan for Amazon, is now the guy who is dragging Amazon across concrete with House of the Dragon.

Okay, I’m done here.


*Pity.  I’ve liked Sir Lenny’s work.

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