Pennyworth created in 2019 on the Epix network. The series centers around a young version of Batman’s trusted butler and father figure, Alfred Pennyworth, played by Jack Bannon. Pennyworth also features further connections to Caped Crusader lore through the characters Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) and Martha Kane (Emma Paetz), later known as Martha Wayne.
In 2021, it was announced that Pennyworth would move to HBO Max for its third season. As part of the transition, the series received a new subtitle, announced in August 2022: The Origin of Batman’s Butler. The addition became somewhat controversial upon its reveal – an understandable development, given its unintentionally comedic flair. Now there is an explanation behind the title change.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly at New York Comic Con 2022, Pennyworth co-creator Bruno Heller (creator of The mentalist and Gotham), revealed that the name update came from research by HBO Max. As he explained, some Pennyworth viewers were unaware of the show’s DC/Batman connection:
“HBO Max did their research, and they found quite a few people who had watched and enjoyed the early seasons of ‘Pennyworth,’ but hadn’t realized it was Batman. They just thought he it was about a guy who had left the army.”
Heller further revealed that before settling on The Origin of Batman’s Butlerthe creations of the series have taken into account other subtitles:
“[People not knowing ‘Pennyworth’ was connected to Batman was] a bit of a mistake, in terms of our conceptualization. I should have thrown a lot more Easter eggs. […] It became clear that it was just a sensible, practical thing to do. We have offered a thousand versions of it: “The Journey of Batman’s Mentor”, “The Life of Batman’s Guardian”. But the simplest is [best]. [That’s] what is written on the box.
Heller provided more details on the rationale for the subtitle change during an interview with Deadline:
“The beauty of DC canon is that almost everyone has a modicum of knowledge about it. But there are several steps between name recognition and on-screen eyeballs. I think HBO Max was right. Visibility and clarity are paramount. […] although I wish it was “The Butler Who Changed America,” because I always like that in book titles.”
The reason for the name update is understandable. Superheroes are a precious commodity in the entertainment industry, and being openly linked to one of the world’s most famous crime fighters could lead to a boost in viewership. Pennyworth. However, it’s also understandable that the show’s subtitle garnered some negative attention when it was revealed.
Landing on a title for a project is an arduous process. Unfortunately, “The Origin of Batman’s Butler” could arguably be seen as comedic in nature, especially since Alfred’s idea of a solo project was already mocked in The Teen Titans Go! At the movie theater.
Pennyworth’s move to HBO Max
PennyworthThe subtitle isn’t the only change likely to benefit its audience; there’s also the show’s transition to HBO Max. During his aforementioned interview with Deadline, Heller went into great detail about being on Warner Bros. flagship streaming platform would likely lead to an increase in PennyworthThe popularity of:
“Years ago people had very little choice. Now it’s much more like a supermarket. […] I don’t mean to be rude about this, but you’re on a shelf and where you are on the shelf becomes very important in a way that it wasn’t before. So platforms matter. We’re just so excited to be in the mid aisle, in the middle shelf, next to the cornflakes instead of up there with the maple honey granola with soy granules. All of these cereals have an audience, but you get a bigger audience if you’re around Frosted Flakes.”
Heller’s reasoning makes sense. HBO (and, by extension, HBO Max) has earned a reputation as a provider of premium content through numerous high-quality television projects, some of the most recent of which are Succession, harley quinn and Dragon House.
The HBO brand is associated with quality. So getting on HBO Max’s content slate could boost Pennyworthfor the public, who may be inclined to view it as a more premium offering than before.
The first three episodes of season 3 of Pennyworth: The Origin of Batman’s Butler are available to stream on HBO Max.