Home LIFESTYLE Style News Why Amazon’s Lord of the Rings Show Won’t Be the New Game of Thrones

Why Amazon’s Lord of the Rings Show Won’t Be the New Game of Thrones

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With HBO currently in production on the final season of its juggernaut fantasy series Game of Thrones, a number of networks are hoping to be the new source for your Sunday night swords and dragons fix. HBO, for one, is hoping to retain its audiences by launching one (or more) Thrones spin-offs—but it will have to compete with Showtime’s adaptation of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicles and, now, with Amazon’s freshly announced multi-season series set in the world of the fantasy series that most inspired George R.R. Martin (and practically every other working fantasy writer): J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

According to an announcement Monday, “the television adaptation will explore new story lines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.” That means the events of this series will take place prior to Frodo Baggins’ journey—but there’s no word yet on whether the time period in question is pre- or post-Bilbo Baggins’ discovery of the ring in The Hobbit. Matt Galsor, a representative for the Tolkien Estate and Trust and HarperCollins, clarifies that the series will “bring to the screen previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings,” which leaves a lot of leeway for elaborate inspired-by inventions a la the many side stories that padded out Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. In other words, this could be a by-the-book Silmarillion-esque nerdfest, or a show sure to enrage the Tolkien die-hards as much as Jackson’s invented love story between Evangeline Lilly’s elf warrior Tauriel and Aidan Turner’s dwarf Kíli.

Speaking of Jackson’s films: the Amazon announcement makes no mention of whether there might be any crossover between them and the series. But since the production is a partnership between Amazon, the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins and, crucially, New Line Cinema, the option isn’t technically off the table. It might take all of Smaug’s golden hoard to lure Cate Blanchett or Sir Ian McKellen back to play the immortal-ish characters of Galadriel or Gandalf, but never say never when it comes to movie stars and TV.

An even less appealing approach might be the one that the Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises are taking, but I won’t say the phrase “Young Gandalf” again if you won’t. Still, all the younger wizards and elves of Middle Earth can’t guarantee that this Lord of the Rings TV series will be the next Game of Thrones. For one thing, the HBO series started as a very faithful adaptation with a built-in audience of loyal book fans. Tolkien fans, still licking their wounds after the Hobbit trilogy, are likely to be very wary of another potentially less-than-faithful prequel. More importantly, most close observers of TV trends doubt there will ever be another Game of Thrones. The viewership is simply too fractured and too distracted now to allow any show, no matter the subject matter, to capture a Thrones-level audience ever again.

But even if trends shift unexpectedly and there is another massive breakout hit, does it seem likely that the biggest show to follow Thrones will be something that so closely resembles and inspired it? That’s not, historically, how these things go. Copycat shows—if you can even call a Tolkien property a copycat of the genre it helped popularize—sometimes enjoy a measure of success, sure, but they’re rarely ever the next big thing. Just ask Lost knockoffs The Event, V, The Nine, FlashForward, and My Generation (who? exactly), which all tried and failed to ride the wave of ABC’s sci-fi desert-island success.

Lord of the Rings absolutely has more brand recognition for audiences than any of those shows, but you don’t have to look back to discover that aping Thrones hasn’t exactly been a recipe for smash success. In the wake of Thrones mania, Starz wisely snapped another best-selling fantasy adaptation: Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. But while the 2.09 million viewers who tuned in to the recent Season 3 premiere of that show constituted a banner night for Starz, those ratings pale in comparison to the 16.5 million viewers who tuned in to the Season 7 Game of Thrones finale just a few weeks before. Starz’s American Gods, MTV’s (now Spike’s and soon to be Paramount Network’s) The Shannara Chronicles, and Syfy’s The Magicians—all also based on popular fantasy-book series—have proven to be expensive shows with an even smaller fraction of the enthusiastic Thrones audience.

Amazon will certainly survive if it gambles on Lord of the Rings and falls short of taking the crown away from Game of Thrones. But the streaming service is no doubt banking on its foray into Middle Earth to be more than just a moderate hit. News of the Tolkien adaptation came on the same day that Ad Age published an unconfirmed report that Amazon may soon be launching a free, ad-supported version of Prime video. In other words, if users are willing to put up with commercials, they can skip the $99 annual fee that serves as a paywall for Amazon’s original and occasionally award-winning programming.

A “freemium” platform isn’t the same as pay services like HBO Now or CBS All Access—but both of those services were launched and pushed with the enticing promise of Game of Thrones and new Star Trek episodes. If this Lord of the Rings-based show becomes must-see TV, then Amazon could safely expect to see a major swell in viewership for any theoretical new streaming platform. In the ongoing streaming wars, consider this Lord of the Rings series Amazon’s most prized weapon. But will it be enough to rule them all and bind audiences in the era of Peak TV?

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Sean Parker’s wife-to-be, Alexandra Lenas, is escorted down the aisle by her father, Constantine Lenas, in Big Sur, California.

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Alexandra Lenas before the wedding.

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Photo: By Mark Seliger.

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The six-tier, nine-foot-tall wedding cake.

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Photo: By Christian Oth.

here comes  the bride

here comes the bride

Sean Parker’s wife-to-be, Alexandra Lenas, is escorted down the aisle by her father, Constantine Lenas, in Big Sur, California.

By Christian Oth.

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