Attempting to Rescue TVFrom Time-Shifted Future

Marvel TV chief eyes live-event viewing for ABC’s new action drama 'S.H.I.E.L.D.'
Author:
Publish date:

amorabito@nbmedia.com | @andreamorabito


Why This Matters
S.H.I.E.L.D.-Marvel
Television's first primetime
show-is ABC's latest attempt to win TV's most coveted affirmation: live-event gold. 

No pilot in recent memory has been shrouded in as much secrecy as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It was no stunt when ABC screened the show for critics at the TCA press tour last week, and a Marvel security team patrolled the perimeter with infrared binoculars to hunt down anyone recording. That secrecy has only fueled growing interest in the Joss Whedon project that will kick off an entirely new Tuesday ABC lineup on Sept. 24. Jeph Loeb, an executive producer on S.H.I.E.L.D. and head of Marvel Television, upped B&C’s clearance to talk about how the show will avoid the curse of superheroes in primetime, along with its female appeal. An edited transcript follows.

Superhero franchises have clicked as films, but on TV they’ve often been niche shows. How will ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ get broad appeal?

I don’t think we see ourselves as a superhero show. Our ad line is “not all heroes are super.” Our show is about people out there investigating the weird, the unusual. At its best, Heroes was really about people who had extraordinary abilities in a very ordinary world. When it became extraordinary people in an extraordinary world, it lost some of its specialness. We’re not in that world—we really are in a very real world.

The thing that’s most important to us is, what we’re trying to do is bring an urgency back to television. That in a world where you can watch TV anywhere you want any time you want, the notion of actually watching it Tuesday nights at 8 o’clock on ABC is actually not the norm. What we’re trying to do is recreate that experience.

Why all the secrecy surrounding the pilot?

We live in a world where news of any kind, whether gossip or fact-based news, is on 24/7. Those people want to know all the time what it’s going to be. If we can be successful at being able to contain what it is we’re doing so that you’re driven to see what’s going on, then that’s fantastic. And then yes, some of that’s just Marvel.

ABC has had problems in the past with shows that skew male appealing to their core female audience. Have you been aware of that through development?

No one does female heroes better than Joss Whedon. You can’t have the kind of success that Marvel’s had in motion pictures, where Marvel’s The Avengers is the No. 3 grossing film of all time. Iron Man 3, which just came out this summer, is on its way to being No. 5 [on the top-grossing list]. That doesn’t happen because only men go to see those movies. That happens because families go to see it, because women go to see it. Marvel is now known for being more than a “superhero show.” It’s being known for events. What we try to do at Marvel is create an epic adventure that has very strong human spirit in it and a nice little healthy dose of humor.

ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee said you’re talking about other Marvel shows. Any hints about what’s in the works?

That would be a Level 7 question, and I’m not cleared to say that.

The CW is talking about developing more in the DC Comics space. Do you see a saturation point for how many of these comic book adaptations can exist on TV?

When Iron Man came out, all the newspapers said, “That’s it, there is no more room for these types of movies.” The reality, at least from Marvel’s point of view, is we’re just telling good stories. We don’t see ourselves as the same as Arrow. That’s a superhero show. Our show begins with the idea that there’s an organization that exists within the government that goes out and looks for things that should or shouldn’t be kept secret. That’s a pretty relatable idea for people, particularly in this day and age.

Marvel Television has been around since 2010. This will be your first primetime live-action show. What are your other goals?

We'd like to conquer the universe. Marvel Television isn't just live action, it's also animation. We have three series on Disney XD Sunday mornings. That's very important to us. It's very important for us to be able to reach out to a younger demographic so they can start to know what Marvel's all about. Marvel Television did start in the latter part of 2010. For us to have a show on the air two years later, that's pretty good... What you want to be able to do is have someone who has a vision that's clear, and carries that vision through 100 episodes, 200 episodes. And so to be able to do that, you've got to pick the right people and work with them and create something that doesn't just win in its own little unique audience, but has that ability to be able to reach everybody. And if we can do that, and we only do one a year, that's fantastic. At the moment, our goal is to make S.H.I.E.L.D. the best show that we can. What we do in the future is what we do in the future. Obviously there is more to come.

Would Joss be able to continue his involvement for 100 episodes considering his movie career?

We take as much of Joss as we can get. It's a little like gamma radiation. It's pretty exciting when you have it, but you know you can't have it all the time.

Related

Waiting for aRatings Superhero

In B&C’s annual preseason roundtable, critics don’t see a breakout show for this fall—yet—but ABC’s ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ could be the answer to network television’s prayers