Earlier this week, word broke that pay cable Epix has ordered a drama about Alfred Pennyworth's younger days, starting with his time in the British secret service. Pennyworth, which is not at all connected to the currently running pre-Batman show Gotham, which also features Bruce Wayne's butler in a prominent role, has been ordered directly to series.
The question is... why?
Not, "Why make a show about Alfred," mind you. Alfred's awesome, and one of the best parts of Gotham has been seeing the relationship between Sean Pertwee's Alfred and David Mazouz's Bruce Wayne grow. No, our question was more like, "Why does Hollywood keep wanting to tell Batman stories before Batman was around?"
To begin with, we have to look back... to Smallville. Still the longest-running superhero show in history, the show was developed by Tollin/Robbins Productions -- but only after a series called Bruce Wayne was unexpectedly shelved.
Developed by Iron Giant screenwriter Tim McCanlies, Wayne reportedly would have focused on 17 year old Bruce being brought back to Gotham City by Alfred and, finding threats on his life from unknown enemies and even friends, find that Detective James Gordon is the only one he can trust. Planned to run for five or six seasons, Bruce Wayne would have been a flagship show for The WB, then reeling from losing Buffy the Vampire Slayer to UPN. Shawn Ashmore (aka the original Iceman from X-Men) was in talks to star as Bruce.
However, while the Internet would later react to a leaked script of the pilot with enthusiasm, the show was shelved by Warner Bros. in favor of the Batman: Year One film Darren Aronofsky was then developing (that ultimately got cancelled). But picking up a similar concept for Clark Kent, Alfred Gough and Miles Miller pitched Smallville to Tollin/Robbins, and the rest is history.
Fast forward to October 2008. The WB and UPN had put aside their differences and merged into The CW. Smallville was still hanging on, but seeing which way the winds were blowing for superheroes post-Iron Man, The CW wanted to stake out a claim while the getting was good. Thus, they announced that Smallville producers Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson (who would've served as showrunners) and Supenatural executive producer McG would be involved in The Graysons, a story about Dick's life in Haly's Circus with his parents, the Flying Graysons, prior to their deaths.
The Graysons received a "put pilot" commitment, meaning that The CW ordered a pilot it agreed to air as either a special or a series. If it didn't air, the network would have to pay substantial fees to the production studios. In short, the The Graysons seemed to be a sure thing. However, a month after the announcement, Warner Bros. pulled the plug, saying it didn't fit its then-current plans for the Batman franchise.
Meanwhile, Smallville producers had planned to incorporate Batman into their storyline, but were shot down by Warner Bros. executives. Producers then cast Justin Hartley as Green Arrow, and life went on with the emerald-hued stand-in hero (although Batman eventually showed up in the Smallville continuation comics).