The unexpected news this week was Warner Brothers pushing the next Harry Potter flick back to July 17, 2009 from its original November release date*. It’s not an odd move, given that the studio has only one big summer movie for 2009 and will have some really pretty balance sheets for ’08 thanks to The Dark Knight. (The alternate theory is competition with Twilight, which has moved into Potter’s vacated date.) But the timing was bizarre. The teaser trailer, which had already hit online, is running in front of Clone Wars starting today, and two magazines hit this week with Harry Potter preview covers: Empire and Entertainment Weekly.

And EW is pissed.

Nikki Finke has a piece on the situation, which quotes extensively from the mag’s bitchslap aimed at WB, posted last night. “Entertainment Weekly’s early look at the new Harry Potter movie just a got a whole lot earlier,” says Jeff Giles before stressing, “the film graces the cover of EW’s new fall preview issue, which hits stands today. EW and Warner Bros. share a parent company, but they clearly do not share, you know, important friggin’ information.”

Here’s the thing, though. There’s an assumption of corporate synergy gone wrong, but which would you rather have: a rag that exists as a wholesale mouthpiece for a sibling distributor, or a mag that has some sort of editorial independence? One way or the other it’s a bad PR move on WB’s part, since this can’t be a decision that was made the morning of. Was there enough time to give EW time to run a different cover? Perhaps, since it’s a weekly; the longer-lead Empire was probably screwed one way or the other.

While I share Finke’s enthusiasm for the spectacle of EW’s vitriolic push back at Warner Brothers, I actually fall more in line with David S. Cohen’s spin on the situation over at Anne Thompson’s blog. He stresses the ‘better off without synergy’ angle based on his own experience writing about The Dark Knight earlier this year. He was disallowed from asking Heath Ledger questions during a producer interview, became understandably irate when EW ran a piece that focused on Ledger, then was told that the magazine ran what they wanted to run despite the contrary insistence of WBs publicity department.

Not that Entertainment Weekly is The Economist, but I’d rather see the magazine operating under the same auspices as everyone else.

Amid all this brouhaha, I haven’t seen many people speculate about Terminator Salvation. Given WB’s empty-ish slate for summer ’09, moving Potter to July isn’t a wild scheme. But does it imply any lack of confidence in Terminator‘s earning potential? Part of me hopes that it does, because in my own skewed view, that suggests that Salvation could be a Terminator movie I’ll actually like.

* Disney, meanwhile, has pushed the animated super-dog flick Bolt into Potter’s Thanksgiving release date. That will work well for the movie, which promises to be more entertaining than I’d originally presumed if the footage shown at Comic Con properly represents the feature as a whole. Does anyone care about Bolt, though? Not yet, it seems.