This year on broadcast television we saw how Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. evolved into a must-watch comic book adventure, introducing Marvel’s Inhumans storyline to the world years before its eventual film debut. During the midseason hiatus, Agent Carter jumped in and took over for Coulson’s rag-tag team, revealing an untold story of Cap’s would-be love Peggy Carter teaming up with Howard Stark in order to save the world from his deadly inventions dubbed “Bad Babies”. Then there is The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, which ignores both shows and references neither. The question: Why?
If you haven’t felt it by now, there’s a clear divide between Marvel Studios and Marvel Television. This isn’t something that’s new, nor is it something that’s been well-hidden — those who’ve followed the evolution of Kevin Feige’s Marvel Cinematic Universe since its debut with Iron Man in 2008 would’ve at least sensed it.
One could say that this so-called “feud” has been going on since Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger – after buying Marvel Comics in 2009 – created a new division, Marvel Television, with Jeph Loeb as the Feige of the small screen. Still, each side was cordial enough to the other — until the initial announcement of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D in 2012 – then the gloves came off.
Let the Games Begin
The inspiration for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. came after Disney CEO Bob Iger watched the Marvel Studios-produced One-Shot Item 47, who then teamed with beloved television creator Joss Whedon – and Avengers mastermind — along with his trusted Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog co-writers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. Joining them as its star would be everyone’s favorite (recently deceased) S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), and together they were going to bring a bit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the small screen. Therein lies the problem.
Essentially, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Marvel Television (read: Jeph Loeb) can be seen as simply piggy-backing off of the hard work Marvel Studios (read: Kevin Feige) put in to getting the MCU off the ground — one of the main reasons why Walt Disney (read: Bob Iger) purchased Marvel Comics – and the fact that Joss Whedon, who was still needed for Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, and fan favorite Clark Gregg were involved only complicated matters further. Ultimately, Marvel Studios couldn’t really do much to stop it publicly, but especially privately, behind closed doors.
So what’s Marvel Studios to do?
A Non-Helping Hand
Since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was being developed by Marvel Television for ABC, in two completely different divisions of Disney, there was nothing Marvel Studios could do to make sure that it failed. However, it could make sure that it would be difficult to succeed — and that’s essentially what they did, whether they’ll admit it or not.
In August 2014, showrunners Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon revealed to THR what happened immediately after ABC ordered a full season of the show:
Maurissa Tancharoen: We had the order to do a series about S.H.I.E.L.D. and, literally, a day or two after that they said, “Oh, by the way, there’s a movie coming up that will affect your show.”
Jed Whedon: Here, read this script [for Captain America: The Winter Solider].
Tancharoen: Read this script, and you’ll see what we’re talking about.
Recently, during interviews for The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Joss Whedon opened up to IGN and confirmed Marvel Studios’ attitude towards Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
I think actually the movie people were a little bit cross about the TV show. They were sort of like ‘Well you can have this but not this. And this but not that.’ It’s complicated enough as it is without me adding another layer of complication. We also created a TV show called S.H.I.E.L.D. right before they made a movie where they destroyed S.H.I.E.L.D. – so everybody’s having a GREAT time!
The question still: Why?
Whedon’s references to complications aside, the entertainment world is essentially all about perception and promotion, ultimately. No matter who you are in the business, there is always someone who wants your job, who is actively vying for your job, and who will ultimately have your job when you “move on”, either by choice or by force. Marvel TV (AKA competing executives) is now leveraging a portion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – which they didn’t create — and, if successful, is a threat to the executives at Marvel Studios.
That’s to say: if Marvel TV succeeds and Marvel Studios fails, Mickey Mouse is going to want to move members of the “winning executive team” to the “failing executive team” — especially when “failing” for Marvel Studios, theatrically, can mean billions of dollars in lost revenue. No matter what, each and every corporation is beholden to their stockholders, and they must make decisions which benefit those individuals. If they don’t tend to their investors, then there’s always someone else who is ready and willing to take over the position and do just that.
In Captain America: The Winter Solider, S.H.I.E.L.D is seemingly dismantled, in a very big and explosive way. For the freshman ABC series, this event didn’t happen until episode 17 of season 1 (“Turn, Turn, Turn”) — so the writers and producers had to figure out what to do with a show whose premise won’t actually exist after 16 episodes — yet ABC still needs 16 episodes (read: hours) of television to air until then.
For anyone who sat through Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 – instead of using our viewing guide — the lack of focus and story is more than apparent. Sure, there are some episodes such as “The Hub” (episode 7) and “Seeds” (episode 12) which are able to stand on their own as solid installments to Marvel’s ever-growing television world. However, overall, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 – even after Captain America: The Winter Solider – is a mess of pointless stories, silly characters, and Bill Paxton not fighting a tornado.
Marvel Studios needed to respond. Cue: Peggy Carter.
NEXT PAGE: Marvel TV & Movies Play Nice?
Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better
Agent Carter was essentially when Marvel Studios brought “the fight” to Marvel Television, to the small screen, producing a show that was better received and more popular than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ever was.
Even though Agent Carter was technically produced by Marvel Television – and Jeph Loeb is listed as an executive producer — the final paragraph of Marvel’s own press release for the show revealed just how much of a Marvel Studios show Carter was, and how little credit Marvel Television could take after it succeeded: (look where Loeb’s name is listed in relation to Feige’s)
Tara Butters (“Resurrection”), Michele Fazekas (“Resurrection), Christopher Markus (Marvel’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), Stephen McFeely (Marvel’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), Chris Dingess (“Men in Trees”), Kevin Feige (Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Marvel’s The Avengers”), Louis D’Esposito (Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Marvel’s “Iron Man 3”), Alan Fine (Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Marvel’s “Thor”), Joe Quesada (“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble”), Stan Lee (“Spider-Man,” “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk”) and Jeph Loeb (“Smallville,” “Lost,” “Heroes”) are executive producers. “Marvel’s Agent Carter” is produced by ABC Studios and Marvel Television.
Unfortunately, Agent Carter didn’t succeed — it wasn’t even a good show; nor was it a triumph for feminism. If anything, all Carter did was prove just how much Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. grew between seasons — so much so that it recently received a season 3 order for all of its hard work. Of course, like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in season 1, Agent Carter also received a season 2 order to potentially redeem itself.
Still a non-believer? Think Netflix’s Daredevil is the exception to this feud? Think again.
The Proof is in the PR
The big concern in all of this is that no matter how much media training those from Marvel Studios – or its Marvel Cinematic Universe – go through, they’re still unable to handle questions about Marvel Television without quickly revealing their true feelings before going in to “PR mode”.
Here are some video examples where the truth shines through:
1) Kevin Feige on What Daredevil’s Success Means
2) Cobie Smulders Explaining Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Jeremy Renner
3) Clark Gregg & Awkward Silence from The Avengers on Jimmy Kimmel Live
The video from Jimmy Kimmel Live is perhaps the best example of just how much Marvel Studios – and everyone involved — wants to distance themselves from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Marvel Television, generally. Even the most resolute fan must admit that it’s certainly odd that an entire group of outgoing personalities took so long to think of any response to a simple question — especially when the majority of the cast likely worked with Clark Gregg more than each other, even after two Avengers films.
The Ultimate Problem
No matter what’s going on behind-the-scenes, or who will appear on what show, fans continue to tune in these Marvel movies and televisions shows hoping to see some semblance of a collective universe — not simply by name only. Unfortunately, right now, that’s all that we have.
In Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Nick Fury has a fully stocked, mostly staffed, fully fueled Helicarrier without even once mentioning the fact that Agent Coulson even exists. The creation of Ultron, too, which can be seen as one of Tony Stark’s “Bad Babies”, is simply left to exist in this film, alone, despite all the many opportunities there are to simply namecheck Agent Carter and Howard Stark in some way.
Truth be told, Avengers 2 rarely references anything that happened in Phase II of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – it’s simply doing as the first Avengers film: setting up what comes next. Much of this excitement we feel for everything that’s happening is because of Marvel Television, holding our attention and keeping us excited to see the next film, then the next, then the next. If Marvel Studios were left alone, without Marvel Television, who knows how that may affect the MCU, overall — but the fact is that it would affect it.
Fortunately, what comes next in Phase III – Captain America: Civil War; Infinity War – should be more exciting than what we’ve seen so far. Even so, with all of these ever-growing worlds popping up on the big and small screen, and DC soon kicking off its own Cinematic Universe with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Marvel may soon find itself trying to catch up to and satisfy an audience whose attention is elsewhere, both on TV and in theaters.
So perhaps its time that everyone plays nice — or at least hide it better, for “the kids”.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3 Premieres September 2015
Agent Carter Season 2 Premieres January 2016