'Gotham' Boss Sets New Batman Prequel Series at Epix (Exclusive)

'Gotham' "No Man's Land" - Still - H 2018
Courtesy of Fox

Epix is getting into the DC Comics business.

The MGM-owned premium cable network has handed out a 10-episode, straight-to-series order for Pennyworth, a drama set in the Batman universe from Gotham showrunner Bruno Heller.

The project will revolve around Alfred Pennyworth, the best friend and butler to Bruce Wayne (aka Batman). The series is not a Gotham spinoff but rather an entirely new story exploring Alfred's origins as a former British SAS soldier who forms a secret company and goes to work with Thomas Wayne — Bruce's billionaire father — in 1960s London. Sean Pertwee, who plays Alfred Pennyworth on Fox's recently renewed Gotham, is not involved. Casting has not yet begun and the series is set in a completely different universe despite hailing from Heller and producers Warner Horizon. (Others who have played the Alfred role over the years include Jeremy Irons, Michael Gough, Michael Caine, Alan Napier and William Austin.)

Pennyworth is based on DC characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Heller will pen the script and executive produce. The drama marks a reunion for Heller with Gotham's Danny Cannon, who will exec produce and direct the pilot as he did with the Fox Batman origin story.

"As genuine fans of these classic DC characters, as well as the incredibly talented Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon, we couldn’t be more excited to make Epix the home of this series," Epix president Michael Wright said. "We can’t wait to work with Bruno and Danny — along with Peter Roth, Susan Rovner, Brett Paul and the team at Warner Horizon — on this fantastic origin story.”

Gotham, while not a ratings breakout, has been a respectable performer for Fox and earned an abbreviated 13-episode renewal for a fifth and final season. The order helps Gotham hit the 100-episode milestone needed to be sold in syndication, which would create a financial windfall for indie studio Warner Bros. TV. (Heller has an overall deal with the studio.)

"Michael and his colleagues have created the perfect venue for original storytelling, and all of us working on Pennyworth are thrilled to be on the Epix slate,” Heller and Cannon said in a joint statement.

The sale marks a key off-network pickup for Warners in an era when broadcast, cable and streamers are increasingly looking to own their pricey scripted originals. The series arrives as Gotham is poised to finally introduce the caped crusader after four seasons of young Bruce's (David Mazouz) journey. The pickup also extends Warners-based DC Entertainment beyond Syfy's Superman prequel Krypton and multiple broadcast series on The CW including Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow and Black Lightning. DC also has a rapidly growing suite of live-action and animated scripted originals on its forthcoming DC Universe subscription platform.

At Epix, meanwhile, Pennyworth brings the premium cabler into the genre space with the series joining recent straight-to-series drama Godfather of Harlem. That project, starring Forest Whitaker, is set in the early 1960s and hails from ABC Signature Studios. Epix's scripted roster also includes the drama Berlin Station and the comedy Get Shorty. Pennyworth arrives six months after Wright was tapped to take over the cable network. The executive returned to cable ranks following a stint at Amblin. Before his time with the production company, he ran Turner networks TBS and TNT, which, like Warner Horizon, are in the Time Warner family.

Heller (Rome, The Mentalist) is repped by WME and Hansen Jacobson; Cannon (CSI) is with CAA and Bloom Hergott.