Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been on the air for five seasons, and in that time, it’s seen its fair share of highs and lows. Starting with the initial criticism that the show was a bore compared to its cinematic counterparts, and moving up to its recent, more acclaimed episodes, S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to be the MCU’s little engine that could. It's proof that the studio can fashion a hit while focusing only on the little people, the characters who typically matter least, as creator Joss Whedon once put it. The show also established a precedent for featuring less important characters at the forefront, and allowing them to take the space they may not have been given in other MCU movies.
Like all shows that last more than a few seasons, however, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has accumulated a number of behind-the-scenes dramas that rival their onscreen adventures. Who's to say most of the interesting antics that happen should only appear on the TV show?
From studio politics and rumored crossovers, to creative pushback from Whedon, here are 15 Dark Secrets You Didn’t Know About Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
15 The Show Was Reportedly Clark Gregg's Idea
It’s no secret that Clark Gregg, the actor who plays Agent Phil Coulson, is the heart and soul of the series. He spearheads the action, encourages the other agents, and most notably, serves as the unifying thread between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the larger Avengers narrative. What most fans may not know is that Gregg was pivotal to the series from the start.
It was he who first kicked around the idea of making a spinoff that focused on S.H.I.E.L.D., and Whedon, who was directing the actor in the first Avengers movie at the time, ran with it.
Whedon has since passed the lion's share of the work to his brother Jed, but Gregg remains a pivotal force on the show, both on and off screen. He has starred in all but two episodes, and has directed the acclaimed season five entry “Fun & Games”.
14 The Pilot Was Influenced By Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Fans of Whedon’s landmark series Buffy the Vampire Slayer will be happy to know that the multi-talented artist actually borrowed from himself when creating Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Coming off of the global mayhem of The Avengers, he felt that it was important to show another, more human side to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “It was important that our core team, while they are extraordinary and incredibly good at what they do, and ridiculously attractive,” he told Collider, “they don’t fall under the category of super.”
The inspiration for this model was the 1996 Buffy episode “The Zeppo”.
That episode deliberately sidelined the superhuman characters of the show to focus on those typically used as supporting players. "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is basically a TV series of “The Zeppo”,” Whedon added in a 2013 interview with Entertainment Weekly, “the people who are ignored are the people I've been writing as my heroes from day one."
13 The Writers Felt Pressured To Include Avengers Cameos
Much of the initial hype surrounding Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was whether there would be cameos from Iron Man, Captain America, or any of the other Avengers. This was especially exciting given Whedon’s involvement as showrunner and his simultaneous involvement with the Avengers sequel, Age of Ultron. The hype proved to be a double-edged sword, however, as audiences failed to connect with the first season and were critical of the lack of crossover with the films.
It was only after the series established itself that it was able to move away from the need to rely on references to draw viewers in. “It became much more exciting for us to just follow our own story,” Jed Whedon explained, “and make it exist alongside the films as opposed to trying to use them as tent poles within our seasons.”
12 Elizabeth Henstridge Claims She Had A Terrible Audition
As Agent Jemma Simmons, actress Elizabeth Henstridge has earned critical praise and a loyal fanbase. During an interview at Eternal Con in 2016, Henstridge revealed that her audition for the role was possibly her worst ever, to the extent that she feared her career would be over.
If it was up to her, however, she would have never gotten the part in the first place.
According to the actress, she auditioned for the role of Simmons, but Joss Whedon asked her to read for Fitz as well, and offered her a chance to read over the lines. Henstridge turned down the chance, telling him she was sure she could do it, before getting every single line in the scene wrong. She said that at one point she was just pulling lines out of nowhere, and after the reading was over, the room was silent. She still managed to land the part of Simmons, much to her surprise, and the rest is MCU history.
11 The Show Was Almost Cancelled After Season Four
From season two onward, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. earned progressively stronger reviews, praising the acting and the complex story-lines. Sadly, praise didn’t translate to ratings - the show dipped so low in viewership that ABC nearly cancelled it after season four. It was only through the intervening hand of Disney, who own the rights to S.H.I.E.L.D. and its respective characters, that it stayed on the air.
The reasoning behind this decision has never been implicitly stated, but our own Matthew Erao did a feature piece on the possible reasons - the most notable being that ABC is Disney’s main network, and that the other ABC/Marvel shows, namely Agent Carter and Inhumans, failed (or are currently failing) to generate the same consistency. Keeping a piece of the Marvel pie on the air is smart business, plain and simple. When asked point blank about the show’s future in 2016, Jed Whedon was hopeful: “We don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”
10 Joss Whedon Admitted The Show Gets Marvel's Leftovers
Joss Whedon’s strained relationship with Marvel is well-documented, particularly with regards to Age of Ultron, but the strain actually began with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Whedon was frank about the struggles that the show faced early on, going as far as to admit to ScreenCrush that they take the narrative leftovers of the films. “With a TV show, you just have to be-- you just have to be careful,” he explained.
“Which, unfortunately, just means that the TV show gets, you know, leftovers.”
Whedon went on to cite a particular instance where the show’s writing staff came up with a story involving Loki’s scepter - not knowing that the scepter would become a major plot point in Age of Ultron. He would minimize his contributions to the show after season three, citing a need to break free of the Marvel machine. “Not because we had a falling out,” he reasoned, “just because I was like, ‘I can’t…’ If I was still there going… I’d be there every day.”
9 The Cast Is Skeptical About A Film Crossover
The question that has persisted throughout Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s run has been whether it will ever crossover with the characters from the Avengers films. There have been cameos, but for the most part, the two have been oddly segregated-- especially given that they’re meant to be in the same world. Elizabeth Henstridge recently spoke to Screen Greek about the chances of a crossover, and seemed to affirm the fans’ growing skepticism.
“It’s such a boring answer, but time scale wise-- they shoot those movies and then they’re out in 2-3 years and we shoot stuff that’s out in a couple of weeks,” she said, “you have to think about logistics… Logistically, it’s tricky.” Chloe Bennet, who plays Daisy Johnson, had a more candid response for io9, saying “People who make movies at Marvel, why don’t you acknowledge what happens on our show? Why don’t you guys go ask them that? Cause they don’t seem to care!”
8 Chloe Bennet’s Comments Have Sparked Controversy
Bennet, for many the show’s breakout star, has had a history of being incredibly forthright and honest during interviews. She’s been critical of Marvel on several occasions, taking the studio and producer Kevin Feige to task for not giving Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the attention it deserves in the larger story. “The Marvel Cinematic Universe loves to pretend that everything is connected, but then they don’t acknowledge our show at all,” she told io9, “so, I would love to do that, but they don’t seem too keen on that idea.”
She's been so critical that her comments have sparked their fair share of controversy.
Despite the fact that Bennet has distanced herself on social media, rumors as to whether they dated and an upcoming remake of Valley Girl featuring her and YouTuber Logan Paul have kept them linked in the public eye - much to her detriment.
7 Elizabeth Henstridge Used To Perform At Kids Parties Hungover
Before her big break, Elizabeth Henstridge used to work as a princess at children’s birthday parties. Being new to the Los Angeles nightlife, however, the aspiring actress was unprepared to balance constant partying with her Disney-themed day job. “Being hungover and trying to be a princess for forty eight-year-olds is tough” she revealed in a 2016 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. The charming Henstridge went on to say that if things got especially tough during a party, she would resort to sitting down and making animal sounds.
During a Comic Con panel in 2016, she recounted a story where she and Bennet were at a star-studded Hollywood party. The actress was chatting it up with Spider-Man actor Tom Holland before Bennet came to inform her that there were churros at the party (a favorite treat for both of them), and Henstridge proceeded to turn around and walk straight into a nearby swimming pool.
6 The Show Has Distanced Itself From NBC's Inhumans
The species known as Inhumans debuted during season two of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., making it a no-brainer that the two would crossover once the former got their own show. Unfortunately, the chances of seeing said crossover has grown increasingly slim.
Inhumans premiered to scathing reviews and poor ratings this year, and the rest of the season hasn't improved.
Understandably, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its showrunners have been quick to distance themselves from Inhumans and its abysmal standing with fans. While speaking with Comic Book, Jed Whedon made clear his lack of enthusiasm for a crossover, saying “Everything is connected, and that’s fun to play with. But the point of our show is to be our show, and we want our fans to be rewarded for watching it without having to watch everything else.” Inhumans has already been cancelled, so Whedon looks as though he's in the clear.
5 Sharon Carter Was Supposed To Make A Cameo
While names like Nick Fury, Peggy Carter, and Maria Hill were able to drop by and give Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. some dramatic heft, one cameo that didn’t come together was Agent 13, also known as Sharon Carter. According to ScreenCrush, actress Emily VanCamp was slated to reprise her role from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but scheduling conflicts with the ABC drama Revenge kept her from sealing the deal.
She revealed as much during a TCA press tour, saying “With Marvel, they can give you a call the day before the shoot. You don’t know what’s going on with their movies because they’re very secretive… I think an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. appearance was discussed.” Fortunately, we got plenty more of Peggy in Captain America: Civil War, so there wasn’t too big of a loss here. It remains to be seen whether VanCamp will appear in future episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Avengers films for that matter.
4 ABC Is Tentative About The Show's Future
While Disney may have rescued it from the throes of cancellation, the future of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. remains unclear. While critics continue to praise the series, the ratings aren’t strong enough to sustain it for a couple more seasons. This attitude has not been lost on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s creative forces, especially co-showrunner Maurissa Tancharoen, who confirmed that this year’s closer will function as both a season and series finale. “We know what it is,” she said, “whenever we’ve come to the end of all the seasons past, we go into that mostly not knowing until the very last minute, so we’re basically doing the same thing to close out season five.”
"Yeah, we’re ready for it if this is the end, we’re definitely going to make it rewarding either way."
Jed Whedon added to her comments, telling TVLine “We can certainly pivot and there are certain things that we’re putting in… but we know at the end we’re not moving off that mark.”
3 Marvel Wasn't Pleased When The Spinoff Was Announced
Marvel was none too happy when plans were announced for an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff. According to Joss Whedon, the studio didn’t like the notion of a television series being added to their already tangled web of narratives. “I think actually the movie people were a little cross about the show,” Whedon told IGN, “they were sort of like ‘Well, you can have this but not this. And this but not that.’ It’s complicated enough as it is without me adding another layer of complication.”
Whedon also pointed out the unfortunate timing of the show’s premiere with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier - a film that radically altered the status of S.H.I.E.L.D. as an organization. “We created a TV show called S.H.I.E.L.D. right before they made a movie where they destroyed S.H.I.E.L.D.. So everybody’s having a GREAT time!” Thankfully, the relationship between the show and the studio have improved over the years.
2 ABC Limited Ghost Rider's Screen Time To Save Money
Ghost Rider made quite the splash in Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. season four, drawing positive feedback from fans and bringing some unpredictability to the main cast. Unfortunately, the demonic hero, born Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna), was sent back down to hell in the midseason finale, causing many to question why such a riveting character was written out so early. Executive producer Jeffrey Ball offered a creatively driven explanation, telling CinemaBlend that Ghost Rider was simply too much for 22 episodes: “It would feel like one flavor over a long period of time.”
A more practical reason came in the form of money.
As it turns out, the visual effects required to bring Ghost Rider to life took too big a chunk out of ABC’s allotted budget, so Ball and Whedon were forced to work around it. Financial considerations were the specific words that Ball used, though he was hopeful about seeing the character return at one point.
1 Joss Whedon Didn't Want To Resurrect Agent Coulson
The biggest gripe with Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. was also the one that made Joss Whedon hesitant to get onboard. He was concerned that bringing Agent Coulson back, after his dramatic passing away in The Avengers, would take away some of the emotional punch, according to a 2015 interview with io9: “I have to say, watching the [film] with my kids and watching Coulson pass away but [thinking], “Yeah, but I know that he kind of isn’t,” did take some of the punch out of it for me.”
Whedon has since defended his decision: “That really came from the television division, which is sort of considered to be its own subsection of the Marvel universe. As far as the fiction of the movies, Coulson is gone.” Whedon will be glad to hear that while Coulson is slated to return to the big screen in Captain Marvel, the 1990s setting will make it so that his dramatic end will go untarnished.
Which one of these revelations about Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments!