The bad news first: after Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made history with its premiere episode - pulling in nearly 12 million viewers total - the series' second episode didn't fair as well. With a total audience of 8.4 million viewers, the show dropped 34%, which is a significant loss for any network or program, even those not tied to movie universes.
As shocking as that decline in viewers may seem, it's worth pointing out that TV shows almost always drop viewers after the premiere episode, and Disney's heavy marketing of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. meant that there would likely be more fans tuning in for the premiere than would actually be hooked. Even so, this could be the start of a perilous trend for Joss Whedon's latest project, meaning ABC, Disney and Marvel may need to realign their plans if they intend to make the show a long-term success.
The drop in ratings will undoubtedly lead many to proclaim that 'DC rules' and that this is evidence of just how 'terrible' the show is from top to bottom. Of course, using the amount of people who made the decision to tune in to an episode as a gauge for its quality is a dangerous science. Yet even if fans of Joss Whedon choose to overlook the show's lukewarm start and embrace it wholeheartedly, we retain our stance that the show has some serious improvements to make.
Although it's hard to categorize a show with over 8 million viewers tuning in as a "failure," neither Disney nor Marvel are in this for a modest success. One of the biggest questions about the proposed S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series was whether the same amount of fans who helped The Avengers cross the $1 billion mark would tune in, despite the show lacking the talents of Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor. And a 34% drop in ratings - even with a special appearance from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) - won't be calming those fears.
(Then again, people didn't exactly know Sam Jackson would be showing up. Maybe next time the producers will put him in the previews.)
Compared to the premiere episode, the writing did succeed in showing a bit more of each character. However, the characters seem to be where the showrunners are placing the heaviest load, not necessarily the show's connections to the larger Marvel universe. Since the show is the brainchild of Joss and Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (the minds behind Dollhouse), that's no surprise. But with slipping viewership, we'd predict that Samuel L. Jackson's cameo is only the beginning of recognizable faces or names being dropped left and right.
Does this ratings slip mean the future of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is suddenly in peril? Probably not. After all, the shockingly successful head of Marvel Kevin Feige was the one who convinced Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers, seeing talent where others saw a bad bet. After proving himself with The Avengers, Whedon accepted a position as the head of all things Marvel, including Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. With all that in mind, it seems that not only is Whedon in the driver's seat, but he has better odds than ever of getting enough time to grow the show in the direction he wishes.
Only time will tell if the show finds a massive fanbase, or a strongly vocal and devoted one (which is usually the case for Whedon's camp). But if the show's writers start placing more of an emphasis on larger issues, like exactly how Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is still alive, success will be easier to come by.
What do you make of this ratings drop? Is the show done for, merely stabilizing, or still a success by your estimation? Give us your thoughts in the comments.
Catch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. every Tuesday @8pm on ABC.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.