During its tidal wave of major announcements Wednesday—including a rebrand from “HBO Max” to just “Max” for its streaming service—Warner Bros. Discovery officially confirmed that it is ordering a scripted series based on the Harry Potter books, which will air over the course of 10 years…and be executive produced by J.K. Rowling.
Now that the rumored TV series is confirmed, there’s an overwhelming reaction from fans online: “Obliviate” the whole thing.
The series will feature an entirely new cast as the iconic characters, and is pledged to be a “faithful adaptation” of the books, according to the announcement. In a statement, Rowling said, “Max’s commitment to preserving the integrity of the books is important to me.”
In response to that, many of us Potter-obsessed Muggles had our own reaction: What the hell is the point?
“All the Rowling stuff aside, in the little teaser for the Harry Potter show they used the same logo, the same music, and even the same castle as the movies,” Decider’s Alex Zalben tweeted, during the WBD livestream event. “Like, what is even the point of this? They've got whole theme parks based around the actors and the look of the movies?”
Well, that exasperation—the same that follows every major studio announcement of an expensive, unnecessary remake of projects that are perfect as is—was secondary to the main sentiment. The primary outrage was one of disgust, after the confirmation that, in spite of widespread condemnation of Rowling’s outspoken and dangerous transphobic comments, she will be directly involved in this. And because of that, of course, Rowling will profit heavily from it too.
Asked about the backlash to Rowling’s anti-trans comments and whether her views might affect talent’s interest in taking part in the series, CEO and chairman of HBO and Max content Casey Bloys said, “That’s a very online conversation, very nuanced and complicated and not something we’re going to get into. Our priority is what’s on the screen. Obviously, the Harry Potter story is incredibly affirmative and positive and about love and self-acceptance. That’s our priority—what’s on screen.”
Regardless of whether there is a point or value in studiously remaking a franchise that already has been adapted into a seven-movie series, there’s also the question of whether anyone will watch.
Take a recent Hollywood Reporter feature about Amazon’s Prime Studios, its stable of content, and what its subscribers are watching. One of its shocking takeaways was how underwhelming the viewership numbers for The Rings of Power. The series, based on The Lord of the Rings, is famously the most expensive TV show of all time, a pricey bet made under the assumption the entire Middle-earth would eagerly watch. But, according to the Hollywood Reporter, that didn’t exactly happen.
The trade reports that only 37 percent of Prime customers that began the series finished it. For context, a 50-percent completion rate “would be a solid but not spectacular result.” Those metrics aren’t great, especially for a show that cost so much money—and one based on a franchise with such a solid fan legacy that it would be fair to assume it would be a guaranteed hit.
Comparing to that to this Harry Potter gambit, Variety’s Allison Herman tweeted, “rings of power was *basically* a redux of the original story and only 37 percent of people watched the whole thing!! is there any appetite at all for a literal remake of an even more recent story??”
On a purely anecdotal and observational level, I’d say that there’s much more of a cultural appetite and enthusiasm for the original Harry Potter books and characters. (Those Fantastic Beasts can go back to where we can’t find them.) It wouldn’t shock me if those for whom the Wizarding World is a cherished property tuned in to watch this new series in large numbers. Then again, you have to take into account how tarnished the brand has been by Rowling’s actions, betrayed fans feel because of it, and likely they may be to boycott the project on principle.
“Be angry now, sheepishly watch later” is a prevalent mantra in our culture. Maybe Warner Bros. Discovery’s biggest bet this week was on that.