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.