PENNYWORTH Co-Creator Explains The Show's ORIGIN OF BATMAN'S BUTLER Subtitle

Pennyworth, the TV series centered around Bruce Wayne's trusted butler, Alfred, recently got a controversial subtitle addition. Now, the show's creator has explained where said subtitle came from.

Pennyworth premiered 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 other ties to the Caped Crusader's lore through characters Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) and Martha Kane (Emma Paetz), later to be 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 2022's New York Comic Con, Pennyworth co-creator Bruno Heller (creator of The Mentalist and Gotham), revealed that the name update came about from HBO Max's research. As he explained, some Pennyworth watchers were not aware of the show's DC/Batman connection: 

"HBO Max did their research, and they discovered a fair few people who had watched and enjoyed the first few seasons of 'Pennyworth,' but had not realized it was about Batman. They just thought it was about a bloke who left the army."

Heller further revealed that before settling on The Origin of Batman's Butler, the series' creatives considered some other subtitles: 

"[People not knowing 'Pennyworth' was connected to Batman was] a bit of an error, in terms of our conceptualization. Should've thrown in a lot more Easter eggs. [...] It became clear that it was just a sensible, matter-of-fact thing to do. We came up with a thousand versions of that: 'The Journey of Batman's Mentor,' 'The Life of Batman's Guardian.' But the simplest thing is [best]. [That's] what is says on the tin."

Heller provided some more details on the rationale behind the subtitle change during an interview with Deadline

"The beauty of the DC canon is that pretty much everyone has a smattering of knowledge about it. But there are several steps from name recognition to eyeballs on the screen. I think HBO Max was right. Visibility and clarity is everything [...] though I wish it could have been, 'The Butler That Changed America,' because I always like that in book titles."

The reason behind the name update is understandable. Superheroes are a valuable commodity in the entertainment industry, and being openly tied to one of the world's most famous crime fighters could lead to an increase in viewership for Pennyworth. However, it's also understandable why the show's subtitle garnered some negative attention upon being revealed.

Landing on a title for a project is an arduous process. Unfortunately, "The Origin of Batman's Butler" could arguably be perceived as comedic in nature, especially given that the idea of a solo Alfred project was already mocked in Teen Titans Go! To The Movies

Pennyworth's Move To HBO Max

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Pennyworth's subtitle is not the only change that may benefit its viewership; there is also the show's transition to HBO Max. During his aforementioned interview with Deadline, Heller detailed how being on Warner Bros.' flagship streaming platform would likely lead to an increase in Pennyworth's popularity: 

"Years ago, people had very few choices. Now it’s much more like a supermarket. [...] I don't mean to be crass 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 are just very excited to be in the center aisle, in the middle shelf, next to the cornflakes instead of up there with the maple-honey granola with soy granules in it. All of those cereals have an audience, but you get a bigger audience if you're next to the Frosted Flakes."

Heller's rationale makes sense. HBO (and, by extension, HBO Max) has built a reputation as a premium content provider through numerous high-quality television projects, with some of the most recent ones being Succession, Harley Quinn and House of the Dragon.

The HBO brand is associated with quality. Thus, being part of HBO Max's content slate could boost Pennyworth's perception for audiences, who may be inclined to see it as more of a 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. 

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