‘Jupiter’s Legacy’: Battles Over Budgets, Executive Purge Factor in Cancellation

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 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 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 from a highly publicized acquisition.

The series was plagued with issues from the start, with then-showrunner Steven DeKnight initially asking Netflix for a budget of at least a $12 million per episode, according to sources. The streamer, however, backed him down to 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 2020 in postproduction. Louis Leterrier, the filmmaker behind Netflix’s acclaimed Dark Crystal and Lupin series, was brought in at the eleventh hour as a consultant, according to sources, but the move was too late to save the troubled show.

With episode spends now reaching above even what DeKnight originally asked 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 the long post time, several sources peg it at upwards of $200 million.

To compound problems, Netflix then underwent an executive shuffle that saw Jupiter‘s greenlighter, vp original content Cindy Holland, and its two original executive overseers exit the company. Holland was replaced last fall by industry 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 fully-watched episodes or smaller samples or just 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 put under the Jupiter umbrella. Several rival executives questioned why you would lasso yourself to a failed launch, but others noted it does allow the company to gauge the initial awareness winds generated by Jupiter while still allowing Bajaria — between Supercrooks and reviving previously sidelined project The Magic Order — to put her own stamp on Millarworld.

Some say the fate of Jupiter’s Legacy has revealed that Millarworld, despite having a creative IP factory in Millar, lacks a seasoned 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 stumbled.

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.