The Gotham showrunner is moving from a Batman prequel to one about his butler, Alfred Pennyworth. Although Fox cancelled a large swath of its series in the lead-up to the 2018-2019 TV season, Gotham survived. Gotham season 5 will be the fifth and final year for the series. The story of Gotham City before Batman (and how Bruce Wayne finally decided to put on the cape and cowl) will conclude, but series boss, Bruno Heller, isn't ready to say goodbye to the universe.
Although Gotham has changed the Batman mythology in many ways, since the pilot Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred Pennyworth has been a huge part of the series. However, Gotham has presented a much more brash Alfred than usual. The series has drawn heavily on Alfred's (canonical) background as a member of the S.A.S., the British secret forces. The new TV series set in the Batman universe will follow that thread even further for a prequel all about Alfred, long before he started raising the young "Master Wayne."
Premiere cable network Epix has announced that they've given a straight-to-series order to the Alfred prequel, Pennyworth. The series will have a 10-episode first season and will not be connected, in any way, to Gotham. Sean Pertwee who plays Alfred on Gotham isn't involved. This does make sense given the reported setting of Pennyworth. The series will be a period piece and explore the life a young Alfred during the 1960s in London. Casting is not underway but fans can probably expect a much younger Alfred than they are used to seeing in television and/or film.
There will, however, be a Batman connection to Pennyworth. The series will follow Alfred after he's left the S.A.S.. The newly unemployed Alfred will go into business with Thomas Wayne, Bruce's father. The two will form a "secret company," which presumably provides the bulk of Pennyworth's adventures.
Heller will write the pilot and executive produce the series but he won't be the only Gotham alum on the series. Danny Cannon, who directed the pilot of Gotham and was an executive producer, will do the same for Pennyworth. Epix president, Michael Wright said of the series in a statement:
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. 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.
The news is surprising for a number of reasons. Gotham has been a steady ratings performer for Fox but it's hardly been a huge hit. Even if Alfred, and Sean Pertwee's portrayal of him, has been one of the more consistently praised elements of the outlandish series. The show isn't a natural follow-up to Gotham. Pennyworth also marks the start of DC and Warner Bros developing series for premium cable. For the most part, DC's TV series have been regulated to the broadcast networks with The CW and Fox. Krypton, a Superman prequel series, is on SYFY but even that is basic cable.
Moreover, the fact that an Alfred prequel series exists at all is a strange thing. Alfred is a popular character, there's no denying that fact. In a lot of ways, Alfred has even replaced Robin as Batman's sidekick in the mind of most fans. Yet a huge part of the reason fans connect to Alfred is his connection to Bruce Wayne. Creating a series that takes place, presumably, decades before Bruce is even born is a strange way to go. Alfred's background has been hinted at before in everything from the DCEU to Batman: The Animated Series but only vaguely. It's not exactly a question that's begging to be answered.
This doesn't mean that Pennyworth couldn't be an excellent series. It's far too early to judge the quality of the series based on just the initial announcement. The previously mentioned Krypton is a good example in more than one way. Krypton was another series that didn't seem at all necessary, but it has turned out to be surprisingly excellent. Pennyworth does seem strange. Yet the series could become the next great DC TV show. At the very least it should scratch an itch for Gotham fans who are preparing to say goodbye to that series.