ABC might have screened the “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” pilot at San Diego Comic-Con, but the network isn’t giving away all the show’s secrets just yet. There are still a lot of questions left to be answered, like why did Agent Phil Coulson live and who is behind the series’ villainous organization, those won’t be answered in the early part of Season 1.
“I think everyone will have their theories like ‘how’ and ‘what’ and ‘why,’ and I think we always say that everyone is going to guess an assortment of things,” co-showrunner Maurissa Tancharoen says during a San Diego Comic-Con roundtable interview. “It’s going to be about the journey of answering that question [about Coulson]. Taking a long time with it.”
Her husband and fellow showrunner Jed Whedon adds, “We know there will be questions, and we plan on answering them. … We don’t plan on driving people crazy with it.” He promises, “We know we have a responsibility to [Coulson’s] storyline, and we want to pay it off in a satisfying way.”
That’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe brand, and the confidence Marvel Studios has after creating a massive and successful movie franchise. One of the things that struck us most about viewing the “Agents of SHIELD” pilot at Comic-Con was how confident and optimistic it was, which comes with not having to prove itself as a new project.
Of course, there are some challenges with bringing the MCU to the small screen. One big one is the fact that the TV series has a much smaller budget than the movies, and also doesn’t feature well-known (or even not-as-well known) superheroes. As Marvel Head of Television Jeph Loeb says, they don’t have the budget to “have 30 Iron Men come out at the end and save the world” in “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.”
“We have to go in a different direction, and that direction is that television has a kind of intimacy that you have on a regular basis,” he says. “If you think about the most successful shows that are on television, dating all the way back to the beginning, it’s because you fell in love with the characters and you wanted to repeatedly see them.”
Executive producer Jeffrey Bell adds that the key to that is having a relatable character like Clark Gregg‘s Agent Coulson. “Agent Coulson is a hero. Cable is the world of anti-heroes and they’ve tried to do anti-heroes on network but it doesn’t really play, but we think Coulson’s the perfect hero for a network television show,” Bell says. “He’s like the dad you want to have. He’s like the guy you want at your back when you’re in a corner, and he’s surrounded himself with similar people.”
None of the central characters in “Agents of SHIELD” have superhuman powers, though the door is always going to be left open for superheroes from the Marvel movies to make appearances on the show. The goal of the ABC drama isn’t to give fans a weekly dose of the comic book films they see on the big screen, but rather to tell the other, human side of the story.
“If a giant storms through a city, the movie would be about the giant. We would be about the guy on the ground who the foot lands next to and the consequences of that — or the person who grabs onto the foot,” Whedon says. When Zap2it brought up “Man of Steel’s” level of destruction as an example of that, he notes, “There’s fallout in those movies that you never deal with. You never talk about the fact that the city was destroyed.”
Right from the pilot, a character, played by J. August Richards, is introduced who has clearly been affected by the post-“The Avengers” world. Tancharoen and Whedon wouldn’t say for sure whether he’ll be back again in the series — the closest they got was, “He’s not dead” — but he at least is an example of the way they’re showing and not telling that the world was changed after the events of “The Avengers'” Battle of New York. Knowledge that superheroes and aliens and gods exist has changed the world, and not necessarily for the better.
Still, the show will do its best to stay very connected with what is happening with future Marvel movies and weave in and out when it makes sense. As for whether there will be a “Thor: The Dark World” tie-in come November, Whedon jokes, “That’s a Level 7 question.” The showrunners also plan to incorporate both new and established elements and characters from the Marvel comics universe to the show.
“The Marvel universe, the comics universe, is so vast that you can think of something and be like, ‘Is there a guy called that?'” Whedon says. Tancharoen quips, “The answer is always, ‘Yes.'”
Just don’t expect anyone to give away any of the show’s big surprises, no matter how nicely you ask.
“The reality is I’m sure at some point you’ve told a story and all of the sudden someone in the back says, ‘And it’s a kitty!’ and he just spoiled my story, so that’s what it is,” Loeb says. “We’re just trying to bring some of the urgency back to television. We live in a world where every little thing, just boom, it’s out there all over the place. We love social media and we want to be part of social media, but by the same token it would be great if we could sit down and watch a television show without knowing every little thing before it happens.”
As much as the Marvel execs appreciate fan feedback, they’ll only incorporate it so far. “There’s people out there who would love to see Wolverine and Batman have a fight. Great. Not happening any time soon. But Coulson lives? Welcome to ‘Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,'” Loeb says.
“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” premieres on ABC on Sept. 24.