The Marvel Cinematic Universe may have started out simply with a series of movies – albeit movies that established decades of superhero lore between Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers – but it has since grown to include television series on both ABC and Netflix. The MCU first expanded to TV with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 2013, followed by Agent Carter on the network and Daredevil on the streaming service in 2015. Now, Netflix’s corner of the MCU consists of two seasons of Daredevil and one season of Jessica Jones – with additional Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and The Punisher series arriving over the next few years, along with a team-up featuring The Defenders.
However, the Marvel side of television doesn’t appear to be slowing down, with a series based on Cloak and Dagger in the works at fellow ABC-owned network Freeform, and a show based on Marvel’s Scarlet in development at Cinemax. Still, though fans have responded well to Marvel’s Netflix series, it took some time to develop the version of Jessica Jones fans know today – and to find a home for the television series.
In an interview with Deadline, Jessica Jones showrunner Melissa Rosenberg spoke about how she became involved in producing a show about a female superhero and how it wasn’t the right fit for the ABC television network:
“It was after the whole Dexter and Twilight runs when I took meetings. ABC Studios asked what I was interested in doing next. I said I’d love to do a really damaged, complex female superhero, like Iron Man. They quickly put me together with Jeph Loeb [head of Marvel TV], and he brought me Jessica Jones. We did it for the ABC network, but it turned out not to be the right tone for them. Jeph went on to work on something else, but he was always about putting this together. That project was only on the page, it never went beyond that.”
Certainly, the difference in tone between Marvel’s ABC shows – which now only consists of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since Agent Carter has been cancelled and the network isn’t moving forward with Most Wanted – and those on Netflix is easily apparent. Jessica Jones and Daredevil, with their violent superhero/vigilant antics and adult subject matter, would look extremely different if they had appeared in the more family-friendly arena of ABC.
Still, when asked to elaborate on how the version of Jessica Jones that was pitched to ABC was different to the show fans eventually watched on Netflix, Rosenberg pointed out the differences in writing for network television versus a streaming service where viewers can binge watch an entire season:
“When you have a series that’s on week to week with commercial breaks, it lends itself to the case-of-the-week scenario. It was heavily weighted in that direction. It was bound to be less gritty and raw. But when it went to Netflix, we weren’t looking at commercial breaks, you’re looking at someone binge watching. You’re not spending real estate on the page, reminding what the characters said before. You’re telling a 13-hour movie. So at Netflix, there was more real estate in creating depth and more time in evolving characters. Whereas on the network, it would be about trimming frames and plot. On Netflix, it was the opposite. It was about finding more scenes to shoot. We had space.”
Of course, Rosenberg’s comment highlights the major difference in crafting a show for a streaming service versus a network: time. Although seasons on Netflix may have shorter episode orders – such as the 13-episode seasons of Jessica Jones and Daredevil compared to the 22 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – the episodes themselves are generally longer and, as Rosenberg says, don’t need to spend time catching viewers up. As a result of having more time – and more freedom in the tone of the series – Rosenberg was able to create a Jessica Jones series that received acclaim from critics and casual viewers alike.
That being said, without viewership numbers provided by Netflix, it’s difficult to tell whether Jessica Jones reached as many people (or more) with its first season compared to network series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Agent Carter. Of course, ratings have been a big part of the discussion surrounding Carter’s cancellation, with fans calling on Netflix to adopt the low-rated but beloved 1940s spy series.
Considering what we’ve seen in network TV superhero series in recent years – NBC’s failed Constantine series, CBS sending Supergirl to The CW – it may be the case that comic book adaptations need more room to flourish. In the case of Marvel TV’s Defenders universe, they’ve found that room on Netflix, giving creators like Rosenberg the chance to develop entertaining and compelling television – such as we’ve seen with Jessica Jones.
Daredevil season 1 & 2 and Jessica Jones season 1 are now available on Netflix. Luke Cage season 1 will arrive on September 30th, 2016. Release dates for Jessica Jones season 2, Iron Fist, The Defenders, and The Punisher spinoff on Netflix have not yet been announced.