Yesterday, word broke that Disney stepped in to save Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. from being canceled. With each season of the show, fans and the industry have wondered if the flagship Marvel show would survive. It’s long suffered from low ratings, despite an uptick in critical attention as the show has moved toward crafting more consistent stories. Still, each season renewal by ABC has been met with both a sigh of relief and a scratching of the head by fans.
Given that, it’s not surprising to hear that ABC wanted to give the series the axe after its fourth season. Why then, would Disney come down from on high and save a show the film side of things has blatantly ignored for the past four years?
The Case for Stability
The most obvious answer to the question is the one fans have used for years when theorizing why SHIELD has been continually renewed: stability. The show isn't a massive runaway hit, but it does have a substantial audience, especially once streaming numbers are factored in. Add to that the show’s dedicated fan base and social media following, and it's not hard to see why ABC and Disney might want the series to stick around.
There’s also the fact that Marvel TV shows are cropping up everywhere. Netflix is about to release its sixth series with The Punisher, while Freeform will be gaining Cloak & Dagger and New Warriors. Even Hulu will soon have Runaways. To have ABC, Disney's main network, without a Marvel show would not be a good look. Furthermore, SHIELD can continue to project the image of a stalwart show well into its years that maintains an image of consistency while new shows fail around it.
The decision to keep SHIELD on the air came long before critics had begun laying into Inhumans. Still, the show was always a risky prospect. Many fans assumed the renewal of SHIELD was for the purposes of waiting to see how Inhumans performed. If it was a smash hit, ABC could end SHIELD and still have a Marvel show. If it failed, SHIELD would remain the rock that future series could be built around. Add in all the potential for connections between the two series given that SHIELD has a healthy amount of Inhuman lore already, and the appeal seems obvious. And now that Inhumans is being lambasted left and right, the move was clearly a smart one.
Failure to Launch
There’s no word yet that Inhumans will be cancelled, but things don’t look good. And it’s certainly not the first time Marvel has fumbled when trying to kick off a new show. After two seasons, Agent Carter was taken off the air despite a strong fan following. Since then, star Hayley Atwell and many of Marvel’s key creatives have expressed their desire to bring the show back in some form. Considering how much Peggy Carter has traveled around the MCU, it does seem hard to believe Atwell will be gone for too long. But at least her show got a shot.
For two years, fans were jerked back on forth over the possibility that a spinoff called Marvel’s Most Wanted would put the spotlight on Mockingbird and Lance Hunter. After being passed up, it was revived the next year and a pilot was shot. The cast was filled out, a logo arrived, and Bobbi and Hunter were given a tearful goodbye on the series. Sadly, ABC changed leadership and the new boss decided the series was a too much of the same. In fairness, this criticism was true. Unfortunately, it meant two of SHIELD’s best characters were now gone.
On top of that, we’ve spent just as many years hearing that Marvel would jump into comedy with a Damage Control series. With the group appearing in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the future is uncertain, however. Then there’s John Ridley and his mysterious project. For the past few years, word of it being on and then off again have come every few months.
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