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Amazon's new Lord Of The Rings showrunners have never made a TV show before

“Why don’t we just hire the eagles to be showrunners?”
Photo: New Line (Getty Images)

For something that the company is planning to drop just an absurd, dragons’ hoard-amount of cash on, Amazon’s Lord Of The Rings show has been a bit…rudderless of late. (Just like the barrels Bilbo used to smuggle the dwarves out of Mirkwood! Okay, we’ll stop.) Sure, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s J.A. Bayona is already on hand to direct the first two episodes of the series, but the billion-dollar-plus show had yet to find its own personal Gandalf (or Gandalfs) (Gandalves? Gandalfi? Gandalfuses?) to serve as showrunners for this massive endeavor. And so a quest was embarked upon: Epic in scope, lengthy in duration, and perilous in the extreme. But in the end—as the forces of good/Bezos always must—they triumphed, returning with their precious treasure: A pair of guys whose biggest credit to date was writing a Star Trek movie script no one seemed to like.

Which is to say: Amazon announced today that J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, a pair of J.J. Abrams-adjacent screenwriters best known for writing the script that reportedly got tossed out in favor of Simon Pegg and Doug Jung’s for Star Trek Beyond, have been named as showrunners for the Tolkien-based show. And although they’ve been writing together for years—including on a number of Bad Robot productions that never saw the light of day—the duo has never written anything that’s actually been produced in Hollywood, which seems just absolutely wild given how much money, prestige, etc. is at stake here. (To be fair, the pair has been working on developing the series since at least last fall, so they’re not exactly neophytes to the projects.) And lest we forget, Frodo Baggins was also a bit lacking in credits when he embarked on his own daunting effort to make one of the planet’s most expensive TV shows—it’s been a minute since we read the books, but we’re pretty sure that’s right—and that all seemed to turn out okay in the end.


And also much like Frodo, the duo has been carefully surrounded with an extremely overqualified Fellowship of more experienced hands, including a team of executive producers who have worked on just about every major TV show of the last 20 years—Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, The Sopranos, Stranger Things, Hannibal, and more. The duo also has the axe and bow (or whatever the modern, costume-and-production design equivalents of those are) of Suicide Squad costume designer Kate Hawley, The Last Jedi production designer Rick Heinrichs, and visual effects supervisor Jason Smith, from The Revenant. The takeaway here is that Amazon would really, truly like this show to be a huge success, filling the void left behind in the pop culture landscape by Game Of Thrones, and the company has made it very clear that money is no object in that pursuit. We can only assume that Payne and McKay made one hell of a pitch to engender such faith—again: billion-dollar, multi-season faith—but they do appear to have it. Here’s Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke at the TCAs this week: “As our journey into Middle-earth begins, we are in excellent hands with J.D. and Patrick at the helm, with this incredible team of talent that they’ve assembled.”

There’s no word yet on when Lord Of The Rings can be expected to clamber out of its hobbit hole at last.

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