The Penguin

Source: Courtesy Max

The Penguin

Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) teased plenty of content on Wednesday’s presentation for its launch of the Max streaming service, among them new shows in development based on the Harry Potter and Game Of Thrones worlds and in-production Batman spin-off series The Penguin.

All these shows and others mentioned in the presentation heavily suggest WBD will exploit its vast content stable to build franchises as it competes for customers’ dollars against more established rivals like Netflix and Disney+.

Max, which launches in the US on May 23, has ordered an original, decade-long Harry Potter scripted series based on “authentic” adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s seven books. Rowling will serve as executive producer alongside Neil Blair and Ruth Kenley-Letts for Max in association with Brontë Film and TV, and Warner Bros. Television. Film franchise producer David Heyman is in talks to join the executive producer roster.

In a Q&A session with press after the presentation HBO & Max Content chairman Casey Bloys dismissed a question about whether Rowling’s controversial comments on trans issues might make it challenging to cast talent on the series.

HBO has made a series order for Games Of Thrones prequel series A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms: The Hedge Knight set a century before events in the original Game Of Thrones series.

George R.R. Martin and Ira Parker will write and serve as executive producers on the show, which will follow the adventures of Ser Duncan the Tall and his diminutive squire, Egg, at a time when the Targaryen line still holds the Iron Throne. Ryan Condal and Vince Gerardis will also serve as executive producers.

Max Originals shows includes DC Studios Batman spin-off series The Penguin starring Colin Farrell (pictured). Production on the series from Warner Bros. Television and DC Studios has just started and Bloys teed up a first-look teaser.

There were also first-looks for:

  • True Detective: Night Country starring Jodie Foster and Kali Reis and directed by showrunner Issa López. The story takes place in Alaska as two detectives investigate the disappearance of eight men from a research centre;
  • The Regime (formerly The Palace), starring Kate Winslet, directed by Stephen Frears and Jessica Hobbs, and written by Will Tracy. The show takes place over the course of a year within the palace of a crumbling European regime. Matthias Schoenaerts, Guillaume Gallienne, Andrea Riseborough, Martha Plimpton and Hugh Grant star alongside newly announced cast including Danny Webb, David Bamber, Henry Goodman, Stanley Townsend, Louie Mynett, Rory Keenan, Karl Markovics, and Pippa Haywood; and
  • Satirical Vietnam War thriller The Sympathizer from Park Chan Wook starring and produced by Robert Downey Jr., and based on Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Max is also developing with horror ace James Wan, DC Studios co-head Peter Safran and Warner Bros. Television a drama series set in The Conjuring horror Universe, as well as a comedy series derived from TV smash The Big Bang Theory with Chuck Lorre, who has an overall deal at Warner Bros. Television.

Amblin Television is behind the prequel animated series Gremlins: Secrets Of The Mogwai which debuts on Max on May 23 and features Steven Spielberg as executive producer The story takes place in 1920s Shanghai where the Wing family first meet the young Mogwai called Gizmo and Sam Wing (the future shop owner in 1984 film Gremlins) agrees to take Gizmo home.

Also dropping on May 23 is Smartless: On The Road, a six-part documentary following comedians and actors Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes on the North American tour of their podcast. Sam Jones directs.

Meanwhile Max and Cartoon Network have greenlit an animated rendering of the fairy tale Peter & The Wolf in collaboration with U2 frontman Bono and his childhood best friend and musician Gavin Friday, who will narrate and compose music. Artwork is based on Bono’s illustrations from his book of the same name.

Peter & The WolfGremlins: Secrets Of The Mogwai as well as Tiny Toons Looniversity are three examples of a large childrens programming offering at WBD that executives are keen to promote. Kathleen Finch, chairman and chief content officer of U.S. Networks Group, emhasised the platform will see library and new content in this area. 

Executives are aware that the HBO brand name in HBO Max may have turned off households and parents because of the association with HBO’s edgy content, despite the fact that WBD owns a lot that will appeal to families. Max will feature a kids hub and parental controls.

WBD CEO David Zaslav talked up Warner Bros and its storied history in the year when the studios is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Zaslav, a big believer in theatrical distribution as a driver throughout the revenue waterfall, name-checked several of the studio’s upcoming 2023 releases, among them The Flash, Barbie, and Dune 2

It emerged that New Line/DC Entertainment box office flop Shazam! Fury Of The Gods, which has mustered $128m worldwide since its March 15 debut, will launch on Max on May 23. Zaslav and his cohorts will have higher hopes for DC Studios, its reconfigured DC Films division under the leadership of James Gunn and Peter Safran, who have announced their first wave of projects. 

Besides Warner Bros, HBO Max and DC Studios the WarnerMedia stables include TBS, CNN – executives said announcements would be forthcoming on CNN – and TNT.

Discovery+ is known for its lifestyle and reality programming and encompasses brands like Food Network, Magnolia Network, HGTV, OWN, Animal Planet, Science Channel, History, A&E, and Lifetime.

Magnolia Network announced a new instalment in the Fixer Upper franchise coming in November, Fixer Upper: The Hotel featuring Chip and Joanna Gaines. In an example of cross-promotion across WBD platforms, HGTV will launch the competition series Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge this summer to coincide with the July 21.

Max will launch with three tiers: Max Ad-Free tier will stay at $15.99 per month, and Max Ad-Lite stays at $9.99. Users will need to pay $19.99 for the new Max Ultimate Ad Free plan offering 4K UHD resolution, 100 offline downloads, and Dolby Atmos sound quality.

WBD will issue announcements for its international service, which continues to roll out, in due course.