Much has already been said about the bad reviews and underwhelming IMAX box office performace of Marvel's latest TV production, Inhumans, set to premiere tonight on ABC. While the TV division of arguably the biggest name in blockbuster entertainment has seen mixed results over the years on Netflix - ranging from the critically acclaimed Jessica Jones to the misfire Iron Fist - ABC's network offerings have been a more muted affair. Indeed, interest in their former flagship show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was allegedly so low that the network were on the verge of cancelling it until Disney stepped in, according to recent reports. When corporate synergy seems to be the only thing keeping you on the air, things don't look good for what will follow.
Still, for now Marvel and ABC are pushing forward with Inhumans, hoping that weak buzz, confusing marketing and a lack of mainstream awareness of the central characters can be overcome if the Marvel brand is strong enough. It's certainly proven its mettle in the world of film but TV is a different affair altogether, and Inhumans tried the movie route to no avail thanks to a very disappointing IMAX release of the first two episodes that failed to bring in the crowds. Generally speaking, even the most ardent Marvel fans struggled to justify spending money on an IMAX ticket for something they could watch for free a few weeks later.
For better or worse, money has been a defining problem for Inhumans. The effects looked cheap, the sets shoddy and the entire affair - at least in the marketing - reeked of a rush job. It's no secret that Marvel's TV division, who have a rather frosty relationship with film branch Marvel Studios, like to keep a tight rein on the budget (how many scenes in the Netflix shows are shot in the same series of dark alleys?), but Inhumans was sold as something more epic, the kind of experience that could only be appreciated on an IMAX screen. Surely that warranted more money?
It's hard to find solid confirmation on the budget of Inhumans. Usually, the costs of shows aren't as widely broadcast as film budgets, except in very expensive circumstances. Netflix have been open about budgeting for some of their more epic shows, from the rumored $100m price tag on the first season of The Crown to the budget boost gifted to the second season of Stranger Things, with each episode reportedly costing between $6 - 8m. A February 2017 report from Pacific Business News, regarding the then-upcoming filming of Inhumans in a former Navy Facility in Hawaii, said that "the entire production is expected to create hundreds of jobs in the Isle film industry as well as pump between $80 million and $100 million annually into the state’s economy, rivaling and even surpassing such Hawaii-filmed TV series such as ABC’s 'Lost,' and CBS’ current series 'Hawaii Five-0.'"
We haven't been able to confirm this claim from any other sources or reports. If it is true, then an eight episode first season run with an average episode cost possibly totalling $10m or more is new territory for ABC and Marvel TV. Obviously, that number would also account for non-production costs unrelated to the making of each episode, but it would still be an epic production.
However, there is also reason to believe this number is false. The director of the pilot, Roel Reiné, best known for direct-to-DVD fare, admitted that the "schedule was super tight" and that "I had TV schedule time to shoot it with Imax cameras, 20 days to shoot two episodes. It's nerve-wracking but I come from a low-budget film world, so 20 days for me is luxury." If Marvel TV really did want to spend $10m an episode on a show, they would probably allow a more flexible shooting schedule than 10 days per episode (by contrast, The Crown's production allowed for 15 days per episode, and Game of Thrones season 7's filming schedule worked out as approximately 23 days filming per episode). With all due respect to the director, they would probably also hire someone whose biggest directorial credit was something more major than The Scorpion King 3.
There's always the chance Marvel can pull this out of the bag and turn Inhumans into the surprise smash of the TV year. Marvel is a brand that commands intense loyalty and that can mean the difference between a hit and a flop, but the worlds of TV and film have different rules and expectations to deal with. Whatever the case, ABC will be hoping that Inhumans was an investment worth making.