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"Harry Potter," "It" Prequel and Other Warner Bros. Tentpole Shows to Be Branded as HBO Originals Instead of Max


Wed 26 Jun 2024 | 03:36 PM
Harry Potter
Harry Potter
Yara Sameh

 HBO and Max content CEO Casey Bloys is changing the delineation between what an “HBO show” and a “Max show” is, moving most of Max’s upcoming big-budget, tentpole Warner Bros. IP projects to under the HBO umbrella.

This means the upcoming “Harry Potter” TV show, as well as the “It” prequel series “Welcome to Derry” and the just-announced Green Lantern adaptation “Lanterns” — in other words, major DC franchise and other big-budget titles — will all now be branded as HBO originals.

This is a switch from the most recent decision to place all series based on Warner Bros. IP in the Max bucket, which was first established when Bloys added oversight of Max in 2020.

“We felt like we had to delineate between an HBO show and a Max show,” Bloys said. “The idea of using Warner Bros. IP as a delineation for Max felt right. At least that gives you a clear lane. But as we started producing those shows, we were using the same methods, the same kind of thinking, as how we would approach HBO shows. In a lot of cases, the same talent that has worked on HBO shows.”

For “Lanterns,” writers include Chris Mundy, who worked on HBO’s “True Detective,” and Damon Lindelof, whose HBO output has included “The Leftovers” and “Watchmen.” Even DC Studios co-head Peter Safran has described “Lanterns” as “a huge HBO-quality event” that is “very much in the vein of ‘True Detective.’”

“What we ended up with is shows at this scope and scale that look great, and great narratives and talent we’ve worked with,” Bloys added. “The idea of the delineation kind of started to feel unnecessary. Like, why are we doing this? Let’s just call them what they are: HBO shows.”

The change officially takes effect with shows launching in 2025. That means “The Penguin” and “Dune: Prophecy,” both of which premiere later this year, are expected to still be called Max originals.

These shows had already been sold overseas with the Max label — and even last week, HBO sent out a “Penguin” teaser that still included the Max branding.

“We will start in 2025, although ‘The Penguin’ would be an obvious fit as an HBO Original,” Bloys commented. “Unfortunately, the process of licensing it internationally has already started.”

Explaining the timing of the decision to realign the stable of HBO and Max Originals series, Bloys noted that it became even more clearer to him that these big shows should get the HBO label as Max started developing series that are more in the broadcast/traditional TV vein. 

This includes John Wells’ and R. Scott Gemmill’s upcoming 15-episode medical drama “The Pitt,” starring Noah Wyle, as well as the crime thriller “Duster,” from J.J. Abrams and LaToya Morgan, both of which remain Max series.

“That felt like a much more natural delineation of what we’re trying to do with Max versus HBO,” he said. “What we talked about with John was specifically how you would approach a network show for a streamer. Typically, the production budget allows you to do more episodes. There’s closed-ended storytelling per episode, which is not typically what you would see in an HBO show."

Bloys stops short of giving a budget mandate to the difference between HBO and Max shows, but clearly there is — and one might hover in at around the $15 million per episode threshold. Anything above that would clearly be in HBO territory.

That’s on the drama side. Comedy is a bit trickier as budgets are different and it’s a little harder to tell the difference between a tentpole HBO laffer and a Max one.

“If I’m using the network analysis, with closed-ended stories, going about something at a certain budget level so that you can tap more stories, trying to be broader… it is definitely harder but we’re trying to do the same thing,” Bloys said. “But definitely, it’s fuzzier there for sure.”

Already, Amy Gravitt oversees comedy for both HBO and Max, so the separation matters a lot less internally anyway. As for the HBO and Max split on the drama side, that does mean that now Sarah Aubrey, who oversees Max’s original dramas, will work with HBO drama chief Francesca Orsi on the shows that will now bear the HBO banner (like “Harry Potter” and “Lanterns”). Beyond that, the structure does not change.

One other tweak: Now that shows like “Harry Potter” and “Lanterns” will be branded for HBO, they’re now guaranteed to run on the linear network in addition to Max. That guarantees a larger volume of programming for the network in 2025 — and Bloys is looking at keeping both Sunday and Thursday as original series nights for the channel.

“I like the idea of having a Sunday and a Thursday,” he said. “But as we schedule for 2025, 2026, 2027 together, we’ll lay that all out and figure out what works best.”

Of course, all of these shows will still stream on Max, so this tweak in branding will likely go unnoticed among most consumers. Indeed, Bloys noted that another reason to make this shift is that the majority of viewers already assume these are HBO shows.

“For a show that feels big and cinematic, they already are going to make the assumption that it feels like an HBO show,” he said. “This is just leaning into that.”

So, why not make all shows HBO shows, and let Max just be the platform that runs series from all of Warner Bros. Discovery brands?

“I do think it is helpful to have a brand that doesn’t put the expectations or the intention of an HBO show,” Bloys said. “If it’s not designed to do that, it shouldn’t have to. I like having that flexibility, that you can experiment with things creatively, format-wise.”

Of course, on the awards side, there already is no delineation. HBO and Max shows are submitted and campaigned in exactly the same way, as “HBO/Max.” And in marketing, most ads promoting HBO series also include a Max logo, since that’s where audiences will stream the show no matter what.

“It’s a confusing time in the business, consumers figuring out streaming and shows that were on linear and streaming and vice versa,” Bloys said. “We’re trying to adapt and figure out what is the best way to approach this in a world where streaming is dominant. So, there is going to be experimentation, there are going to be mistakes. Because this is all still relatively new in the history of television.”