After raking in ~$770 million at the box office on a $200 million budget, it’s safe to say “The Batman” is the wild success Warner Bros wanted it to be. And with that financial success, Matt Reeves’ plans for future projects in his version of Gotham City are secure. Or so he’d like to think.
There are two sequels to “The Batman” and two spin-off series on HBO Max in the works in the planned shared universe, but even the best-laid plans are subject to change. Just ask Joe Barton, ex-showrunner for the “Gotham P.D.” HBO Max series that has since evolved into a show centered around Arkham Asylum. Barton was named head of the new show by HBO in early 2021 following the critical success of his BBC Two show “Giri/Haji.” However, before “The Batman” hit theaters this past March, Barton was canned once the show moved in a new direction.
Barton talked about his firing from the “Gotham P.D.” project in a recent interview with The Telegraph. Up to this point, it’s his biggest career disappointment, next to Netflix’s quiet release of “Giri/Haji” in early 2020, ultimately leading to the show’s cancellation. The up-and-coming writer isn’t dissuaded by projecting falling through, though, as in his words,” ‘The Wire’ set in Gotham City, is the lazy pitch.” “I gave the script over in November, and HBO called to say they loved it and they were really excited,” said Barton, “And then in January, my agent called to say I’d been fired.” To be fair, a Gotham City version of “The Wire” would be pretty cool. Just imagine what Lester Freamon, Bunk, and McNulty would do if The Joker and The Riddler were running around the streets of Baltimore instead of Marlo and Stringer Bell.
Barton isn’t the first showrunner to get fired from the “Gotham P.D.” project. “Boardwalk Empire” and “Vinyl” head Terence Winter was the first person to lead the series’ development, but he left in November 2020. Now, following Barton’s departure, Reeves wants the show to emphasize more of a haunted house atmosphere than a cop drama. “The GCPD thing, that story has kinda evolved,” said Reeves in a March interview. “We’ve actually now [moved] more into the realm of exactly what would happen in the world of Arkham as it relates coming off of our movie and some of the characters and their origins… almost leaning into the idea of… it’s like a horror movie or a haunted house that is Arkham.” So, less cops, more villains and their horrifying origin stories, got it.
Reeves went on, “The idea, again the way that Gotham is a character in the movie, I really want Arkham to exist as a character. You go into this environment and encounter these characters in a way that feels really fresh. And so in our work on Gotham, that story started to evolve, and it started feeling [like], ‘Wait, we should really lean into this.’ And then that’s kinda where that’s gone.” So, it sounds like the GCPD idea was still very much in developmental phase even though Barton had sent over a very well-received script when he was on board. Such is the nature of the industry.
Still, Barton remains lighthearted about the whole thing, and he has several other projects lined up, including the next “Cloverfield” movie for J.J. Abrams. His new show “The Lazarus Project” with Paapa Essiedu hits Sky Max on June 16. And who’s to say that HBO Max’s second show to their one centered on Colin Farrell’s The Penguin will remain an Arkham Asylum project? Sequels to “The Batman” are still years away and until one of those gets greenlit, expect HBO Max’s plans for their series to shift some more.