Jupiter’s Legacy hit Netflix on May 7 to great expectations. The show, which adapts a well-regarded comic by Mark Millar, was the first project to emerge from Netflix’s 2017 acquisition of Millar’s publishing line, Millarworld. Unlike most of Millar’s other works, the superhero comic, with a story that spans decades and prequel titles, had a deep character bench from which to draw, and Netflix saw it as a way to further its own universe-building ambitions to compete with Disney IP heavyweights Marvel and Star Wars. And it was to be a flagship show for the cornerstone of its Millarworld ambitions.
On June 2, however, Jupiter was no more, with the streamer informing the cast that they were being let go as the series garnered a less-than-stellar 38 percent critics’ score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
The show, however, seemed to be a victim of several factors, some of its own making, some not, and illustrates the birthing pains of building on a highly publicized acquisition.
The series was plagued with issues from the start, with then-showrunner Steven DeKnight initially asking Netflix for a budget that would see at least a $12 million per episode spend, according to sources. The streamer, however, backed him into an area of under $9 million.
It wasn’t long into shooting that the show found itself overbudget and running behind, with DeKnight, never one to shy away from speaking his mind, according to people who have worked with him, clashing with Netflix over “creative differences.” The production was shut down about halfway through its eight-episode shoot; DeKnight was replaced by Sang Kyu Kim, who then had to retool the first batch of episodes.
Issues didn’t stop there, however, as even after wrapping production, the show spent an inordinate amount of time of 2020 in post-production. Louis Leterrier, the filmmaker behind Netflix’s acclaimed Dark Crystal and Lupin series, was brought in at the 11th hour as a consultant, according to sources, but it was seen as too late to save the troubled show.
With episode spends now reaching even above what DeKnight was originally asking for, show insiders say he was proven right in some respects.
“Marvel shows are $15 million to $20 million per episode,” notes one producer working in the comic book space. “If you’re going to make a big superhero show, you need at least that much.”
It is unclear in what range the final budget landed. A Netflix insider pegged it closer to $130 million for the season, but with the cost of shutting down production and long post-time, several sources peg it upwards of $200 million.
To compound problems, Netflix then underwent an executive shuffle that saw its greenlighter, vp original content Cindy Holland, and its two original executive overseers exit the company. Holland was replaced last fall by veteran Bela Bajaria, who took the mantle as head of global TV. As is the norm with many a shuffle, any project not part of an incoming exec’s portfolio will be scrutinized. “Unless the show is an undisputed hit, it’s going to fall under the microscope,” says one Jupiter insider.
When Jupiter was canceled, some observers presumed bad metrics were the cause. But a day after the cancellation, Nielsen showed Jupiter atop its streaming chart, generating 696 million minutes of view time in the week of May 3-9, better than Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (690 million) and other original series from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Disney+. And Jupiter was, for a while, a fixture on Netflix’s own public top 10 chart visible to subscribers, although that metric is vague as it is not clear if it’s measuring watched episodes or simple samples or acting as a visibility booster.
Millar and Netflix spun the cancellation by saying Jupiter is going to be a universe, with a new live-action series — based on an unrelated Millar comic titled Supercrooks — given a series order and folded under a Jupiter umbrella. Several rival executives questioned why you would lasso yourself to a failed launch but others noted it does allow the company to sail the initial awareness winds generated by Jupiter while still allowing Bajaria, with Supercrooks and bringing back the sidelined project, The Magic Order, to put her own stamp on Millarworld.
The other criticism lobbed at the process is that it has revealed that Millarworld, despite having a creative IP factory in Millar, lacks a seasoned and muscled producer or executive that can really steer the division. A Netflix insider insists that the company is invested in Millarworld for the long haul, noting building franchises takes time and that even vaunted brands such as Star Wars and DC have stumbles.
So in the end, was there an audience for the show or not? Netflix isn’t saying, and viewers may have to wait until Supercrooks arrives to find out.