ABC Entertainment owns the television airing rights for two lucrative geek brands, now that parent company Walt Disney Pictures controls Marvel and has acquired Lucasfilm from Star Wars creator George Lucas. The network is prepping Joss Whedon’s S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, with production getting underway this month for a Fall TV season debut.
Network president Paul Lee cites the Marvel universe’s cross-generational appeal and Whedon’s storytelling style as reasons to be hopeful that the S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot gets picked up for series. Meanwhile, there are plans to re-examine the dormant Star Wars live-action TV show – which is a carryover from Lucas’ administration – and determine whether or not that’s something worth pursing.
Whedon’s show brings together Avengers veteran Clark Gregg reprising his Agent Phil Coulson, with television actors Ming-Na Wen (Stargate Universe) and Chloe Bennet (Nashville) among those playing S.H.I.E.L.D. employees created for the small screen. Speculation points to Samuel L. Jackson showing up as organization head Nick Fury (admittedly, the actor’s stirring that pot himself), but otherwise the series is shaping up as a separate entity that does not overlap with the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline (e.g. Coulson’s alive and fine).
S.H.I.E.L.D. is expected to follow the template of Whedon’s cult TV creations Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, examining contemporary family identity and moral responsibilities through a pop culture show that breezily see-saws between tongue-in-cheek action and serious drama (a la The Avengers). That is, we anticipate as much emphasis on the (dysfunctional?) team dynamic as the characters’ world-saving deeds.
Lee assures IGN that his fellow ABC executives recognize the series’ potential, in terms of how it meets the network’s “smart with heart” criteria that means they have more shows watched by parents and kids together (known as “co-viewed shows”):
“Absolutely Marvel has the ability to bring the whole family around it. The truth about Joss is he has some great relationships in [S.H.I.E.L.D.] so there are a lot of really funny, male/female relationships – very flirtatious ones that go through it. But it’s also Joss too and it’s Marvel and there’s a lot of action to it.”
The relatively diverse S.H.I.E.L.D. casting has Lee believing the show can appeal to “men and women and kids,” rather than just Marvel’s target male demographic. Hence, ABC heads will be watching the pilot earlier than those for other prospective new TV properties and plan to initiate marketing shortly after giving the series an official green-light (chances are good that will happen):
“By the way, the script’s great. So I don’t want to jinx it, because that may not mean a good pilot or a good series, but we’re very excited about it. Joss is wonderful to work with. And by the way, [he's] thrilled to be on television, which I’m enjoying!”
Whedon’s last small screen foray, Dollhouse, wasn’t exactly a satisfying venture, but coming off Avengers‘ $1.5. billion theatrical returns – and the increased carte blanche creative control that comes with it – has probably buoyed his spirits.
Meanwhile, ABC could be dusting off the 50 hours’ worth of scripts assembled by Lucas, producer Rick McCallum and geek-favorite writers like Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Caprica) for a live-action Star Wars TV series that unfolds during the years separating the prequel and “original” film trilogies. Lee’s informed EW that such an option is being considered right now:
“We’d love to do something with Lucasfilm, we’re not sure what yet. We haven’t even sat down with them. We’re going to look at [the live-action series], we’re going to look at all of them, and see what’s right. We weren’t able to discuss this with them until [the acquisition] closed and it just closed. It’s definitely going to be part of the conversation.”
However, the potential cost may prevent this. Lucas’ original estimates were that the required effects will cost $150-200 million or an average $3-5 million episode price tag; though, before the acquisition, steps were being taken by the filmmaker and Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) to reduce expenses to $50-60 million (or $1 million per episode). Indeed, Lee admits the scale and approach preferred by new Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy will affect their decision:
“It’s going to be very much up to the Lucasfilm brands how they want to play it. We got to a point here with Marvel, a very special point, where we’re in the Marvel universe, and very relevantly so, but we’re not doing The Avengers. But S.H.I.E.L.D. is part of The Avengers. So maybe something oblique is the way to [approach the Star Wars universe] rather than going straight head-on at it.”
For more about the show’s rumored concept and connection to the upcoming Star Wars: 1313 video game, check out the full article over at EW.