Illustration by Juliana Lagerstedt
The new Harry Potter TV series seems like nothing more than a cash grab to me, with little creative justification behind it. With eight perfectly good movies based on the seven iconic books, there’s surely no need to remake those J.K. Rowling novels for the small screen with a new cast.
In case you missed the news, the new Harry Potter show—which has Rowling attached as an executive producer—will be the centerpiece of programming for rebranded streaming service Max, to help it win young audiences from the likes of Disney Plus. Each of the seven seasons of the series will focus on one of the books, and the hunt is underway for cast members for the reimagined saga—but it seems there is no search underway for new ideas.
Max combines the existing entertainment programming on HBO Max and the more factual and lifestyle-focused Discovery Plus. It’s playing it safe by expanding existing and popular material in an attempt to take on streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus, as well as newcomer Paramount Plus. Other “new” Max programming includes a prequel to Game of Thrones, a follow-up from the hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory, and a Batman spin-off built around the Penguin character. Seemingly safe bets like those indicate a risk-averse strategy in the streaming wars.
But do audiences really want to see a story they’ve seen before re-told so quickly? The film series was released between 2001 and 2011, just over a decade ago. And while film to series adaptations have proven successful in the past, it may not be so easy to find a new cast that fans can fall in love with when Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and the rest of the cast have become so identifiable as on-screen representations of the magical characters portrayed in J.K. Rowling’s books.
Max bosses—whose corporate parent is Warner Bros.—maybe haven’t learned the lesson from Amazon’s expensive and poorly received The Lord of the Rings reboot, The Rings of Power. And yet, the movie division of Warner Bros. is pressing ahead with a new movie series based on the The Lord of the Rings too; news that original film series star, Elijah Wood, who played Frodo Baggins in the Oscar-winning trilogy, has sounded a note of caution that the decision may be commercially motivated.
But for all the warnings about and doubters of the artistic merits of such moves, this could all prove to be good business. Figures show that even as the cost of living increases and consumers cut back on things like eating out, they will continue to pay for streaming services. According to a Barclays report, spending on streaming subscriptions in the UK has risen by four percent recently thanks to season premieres of popular streaming shows like Ted Lasso, The Mandalorian and Succession.
Talking of Ted Lasso, let me give credit to Apple TV for not playing it safe, but instead making an original show. They took a big chance and it’s paying off as the comedy about the warm-hearted American coach of an English Premier League team is the streamer’s biggest hit and an awards darling. Even creator and star Jason Sudeikis has expressed his surprise as to how the show became such a success. The much more well-established Harry Potter brand now consists of feature films, a stage play, theme park attractions, retail stores and studio tours. And it’s clear the audience hasn’t tired of it yet, as earlier this year, the Hogwarts Legacy video game sold more than 12 million copies in its first two weeks in stores.
But the wizarding world has been tarnished by all the criticism facing J.K. Rowling’s remarks on gender identity issues, and that controversy even carried over into the press launch of the Max series.
In a statement, Rowling said, “Max’s commitment to preserving the integrity of my books is important to me, and I’m looking forward to being part of this new adaptation which will allow for a degree of depth and detail only afforded by a long-form television series.” This also allows for many more subscribers to Max, which will cost around $16 a month commercial-free and $10 a month with ads.
Will the new show be worth it? As with anything, the audience will ultimately decide. But for me, making this reboot a success will require magic beyond even the considerable talents of Harry Potter.