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.
The Promise of Spinoffs
Aside from keeping a steady and stable show around in the face of failing new prospects, the other big reason Disney could be keeping SHIELD around is to furnish spinoffs. That was certainly the idea with Most Wanted, and even Damage Control was first referenced on SHIELD. With four seasons of material, SHIELD is the perfect vehicle to spin out new shows that could take its place or boost its success. And there’s no shortage of characters to use.
We’ve already seen Yo-Yo get a webseries with the show Slingshot, and she could easily be part of a larger show focused on the Secret Warriors and the non-royal Inhumans of the MCU. Even more likely is a show involving Ghost Rider. Robbie Reyes’ debut was met with a strong reception, and fans have been calling for him to get his own series. While Netflix would certainly allow for a darker show, and a potential Thunderbolts spinoff, ABC could be in the market for a supernatural comic book series.
Like The CW has done with Arrow, SHIELD is the perfect incubator for testing new characters and ideas. And while nothing has taken off so far, there are still plenty of opportunities. We recently learned that Marvel is still very interested in comedy and also has plans for an ABC series akin to Jessica Jones. There are a number of possibilities for what that series could be, and it’s not hard to imagine Quake or Yo-Yo leading their own show.
It’s All Connected
The final reason for Disney sticking with SHIELD even in the face of defeat ties into the idea of spinning out new content. But while setting up new shows seems likely, SHIELD can also help bring new concepts into the MCU on the film side. So far, we haven’t seen any TV show referenced in the films, despite the sprawling reach of the narrative in SHIELD and other shows. Still, characters like Coulson and Agent Carter provide a strong bridge to the world of the Avengers. SHIELD also allows Disney and Marvel to more quickly set up ideas that could be run within the films. After all, the Kree first appeared on the show before debuting in Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Inhumans arrived even before plans for their movie.
This season on SHIELD, the action is heading to space. That could mean an organization like S.W.O.R.D. is coming to the MCU. While the rights of the group seem to reside with Fox, we broke down the legalities of Marvel using them instead earlier this year. If Marvel have their sights set on SWORD in the movie universe, we could easily see SHIELD stake its claim to keep the group away from Fox.
There’s also the chance that the Skrulls could make their first appearance on TV. It seems like a stretch, but again, the Kree were already rolled out in this way. It’s not hard to imagine the shape-shifting aliens making their presence known on SHIELD before Captain Marvel brings them to the big screen in 2019.
Regardless of the reasoning, Agents of SHIELD will be back sometime this winter after Inhumans wraps. And while it’s easy to see this season as the last one, there’s more and more evidence that ABC and Disney aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to their first Marvel TV show.