The announcement of Avatar Studios, which will produce further Avatar-related content, should be great news to fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender. But for long-time fans, a few red flags have already emerged. History appears to be repeating itself. Avatar Studio's method of production appears to be mirroring some of the worst trends in the production for The Legend of Korra. This might lead to problems down the road.
While Avatar's sequel series, The Legend of Korra, is fondly remembered by many fans for very good reasons, the behind-the-scenes story on that series led to a lot of problems that would later manifest in the context of the series. While it's possible that the new creators can sidestep these big problems, they might also affect production, leading to content that is as weak as Korra's murky second season.
Korra's Complicated Production
The Legend of Korra had a rough production cycle, made no easier by the division between the creatives and the studio. Nickelodeon notoriously pushed back on several decisions made by the Korra staff. From season to season, Korra's future remained in jeopardy. Originally the series was scheduled for only one season, then a second, until ultimately four seasons were released. However, the uncertain future of the franchise prevented the creators from truly crafting a full arc as they could for Avatar: The Last Airbender.
As a result, each season feels like a rushed, compressed story that could have been expanded and developed over the course of multiple seasons. Character development is reduced, resulting in some characters like Mako feeling out of place and lost in the shuffle of development.
One huge aspect of this pushback is Korra herself. In a 2013 interview Yoo Jae-Myung, the head of Korra's Korean animation studio, claimed "Nickelodeon was reluctant to produce this animated series at first ... the production was suspended just because its protagonist was a girl." This was made worse when Nickelodeon tried burying the show in its third season, and the reveal that Korra and Asami were both bisexual did not make it to television.
With the fandom for Avatar only becoming more diverse, this indicates that Nickelodeon, which now entirely controls Avatar Studios' output, will have even more influence on what can and cannot make it into production. As seen with Netflix, projects can be canceled without warning. Given the Paramount+ release model, it's uncertain how much influence the production company will have on the creative process.
A Lack of Authentic Eastern Voices
One huge issue for The Legend of Korra was that it lacked authentic Eastern voices in its writing and directing staff. Original Avatar creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko attempted to do all the writing for the show's first two seasons. Korra didn't even have a writer's room until midway through the second season. This resulted in the previously Asian-inspired world of Avatar feeling incredibly Western. Republic City, rather than feeling like Hong Kong or Tokyo, feels like Vancouver or New York City. This is a deliberate choice.
Avatar Studios appears to be setting itself up for this same problem as DiMartino and Konietzko are in charge of the studio. It remains unknown what creative crews are working on Avatar Studios' various projects. While this means that the crew might have learned from their oversights with Korra's inauthentic Asian representation, they could also repeat the same mistakes again.
With a larger production crew behind them, it's possible that the idea of inauthentic world-building might be avoided. Indeed, Korra's third and fourth seasons, when they fully incorporated a writer's room into the creative process, showed great improvement. Ultimately, diverse voices will be needed to bring diverse perspectives to the production.
As brilliant as DiMartino and Konietzko are, other writers can help fill in for their limitations, especially as they move into more executive roles in the production. The fact that The Legend of Korra turned out as good as it did is a miracle. They should not tempt fate by starting off a flawed production again.