Nathan’s thoughts on the new Harry Potter TV Show, and why its existence is a bit of our fault
It was recently leaked that Warner Bros. is close to bringing a Harry Potter tv show to the small screen, this time as a seven-season show that directly adapt J.K. Rowling’s popular seven book fantasy series.
Reactions to the news have been decidedly mixed, with some long-time Harry Potter fans excited that a lot of the details of the books would finally make it into the new adaptation. Many reactions, however, have been much more negative. The critiques have varied, but the predominant complaint is that media companies should not keep going back to the same old well over and over again – people are ready for new IP to be adapted, or even more original storytelling on television.
These critics have a point when it comes to the recent past and future outlook on what will soon be coming to film and television. Everything today is a franchise, whether it is the way that Disney+ has backed off all originals not pertaining to the MCU or Star Wars, Warner-Bros./Discovery pumping HBO Max full of franchise projects, or even Paramount+ digging up Grease and 17 versions of the challenge to fill their own coffers. Even though film and television have always been dominated by remakes and reboots, today there is a frenzy to resurrect any old recognizable media to reboot today.
In the wake of a constantly shifting media landscape, it shouldn’t be a big surprise that these companies are risk averse. Ever since Netflix shocked the world by announcing a net subscriber loss in the first quarter of 2021, and a subsequent 30+% decline in their stock, the industry has been spooked on their bullish movement in the streaming space. What was once believed to be a space of uncontrolled growth turned out to be a giant money pit – streaming just couldn’t match the profits made by cable bundles and theatrical hit movies. The unprecedented amount of spending made in the streaming space started to dry up as the big legacy media conglomerates started making cuts across the board (made most famous by Warner Bros./Discovery, whose $3 billion budget cut caused the unprecedented cancellation of Batgirl for tax purposes).
So what does this do with Harry Potter, and what does it have to do with the common consumer? Can we really be to blame for yet another adaptation of books that had very successful adaptations just in the last 15-20 years?
The problem with complaining that media companies are too conservative or don’t want to spend money on new ideas is that these same people complaining do nothing to champion the few new ideas about there. Amazon’s Carnival Row was a wholly original swing in the epic fantasy sphere; the second season came and went with crickets. The final season if the BBC and HBO’s His Dark Materials came and went with barely a whisper in the 2022 holiday season despite being a fantastic adaptation. Rumors are that Shadow and Bone on Netflix dramatically underperformed in its second season (possibly killing any potential for a Crows spinoff). Amazon’s The Peripheral probably shouldn’t even have made it to a second season since no one really watched it. Shows like Yellowjackets, For All Mankind, Evil, Mythic Quest, Severance, Pantheon, The Resort and more are critical darlings (and favorites in some small corners of the internet), but I rarely hear about them outside of these very niche spaces. Even Netflix’s big budget swing The Sandman barely made it to a second season.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the large media companies are only interested in legacy IPs because those are the only things that get attention. The only Paramount+ originals I ever hear about are the Star Trek shows. House of the Dragon received astronomically more media attention (not only from larger media sources, but smaller podcasters, Youtubers, and bloggers as well) than other HBO or HBO Max projects like Lovecraft Country, Watchmen, The Leftovers, Carnivale, and more. The same goes for the oft-maligned Rings of Power, which (along with House of the Dragon) dominated the conversation.
The past is littered with the dead carcasses of genre shows that didn’t get their chance to come into their own – Firefly, Pushing Daisies, Galavant, and so many others. But the good news is that the bar is actually much lower than it used to be to keep a show on the air. What is defined as a “hit” isn’t what it once was. For example, . Wednesday‘s first season averaged 6 billion minutes of viewing when it premiered, which sounds like a lot until you do the math. Wednesday, one of the all-time biggest hits of last year, only averaged about 15 million viewers, which is less than what Lost was doing in its middle seasons. This isn’t the landscape from before where genre shows were almost always too niche too succeed (and when you needed 15+ million viewers a week to even be considered a middling success, rather than a breakout phenom).
If you want more original IP, start watching and talking about original IP. Watch the full season within the first two weeks if there is a binge release (streamers look for this because they pay fewer residuals in the first two weeks of release), talk about them on social media, get your friends to watch, and if you have a platform to champion a show – do so. Go back and watch the recent queer horror comedy Wreck on Hulu. Snag a Peacock subscription to watch and champion Damon Lindelof’s new show Mrs. Davis on Peacock. Get ready for the second season of Sweet Tooth on Netflix.
Unfortunately we live in a capitalist hellscape that only values our dollars. So we need to stop being snarky about the new Harry Potter show on Twitter (well, you can always be snarky – there is always room for snark), but we also need to support creators who are making original content (or are adapting IP that hasn’t been adapted before in exciting ways), because otherwise our genre film/television will only be MCU, DCEU, LOTR, a Harry Potter.