ABC has a decision to make with regard to the future of its sole remaining Marvel television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In all likelihood the end is nigh for the comic book show, with the biggest question being: Will it end with season 5 or will Marvel Television and ABC give Agent Coulson and his crew at the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division a proper send off with a series finale at the end of season 6?
S.H.I.E.L.D. showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen have said they’re ready for the show to end with the upcoming season 5 finale, if necessary, having devised a fitting, if unceremonious, conclusion to the series that will “be rewarding” whether it comes on heels of a season 6 renewal announcement or not. That puts the series firmly on the bubble, with its fate likely to be decided in the coming weeks, as the broadcast networks make the necessary final decisions with regard to what is being renewed and what will be remanded to the dust bin of television history.
With the series’ future on the line, let’s take a look at where Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. stands and examine the likelihood of a season 6 renewal.
Never Been A Ratings Winner, But Has Good Live+7 Numbers
Despite its ties to the biggest movie franchise in the world, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has never been a huge ratings winner. The series posted good enough numbers over its first four seasons that, in addition to flying under the mighty Marvel banner, made its continued survival possible, even if it wasn’t necessarily a forgone conclusion. However, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s best numbers came when it was parked in a viewer-friendly Tuesday night time slot. The recent move to Friday nights, following in the footsteps of Marvel’s dismal Inhumans series, didn’t help the show’s numbers any. In fact, the season 5 premiere posted lower ratings than Inhumans, a not unexpected turn of events considering the appeal of a shiny new product over one quickly approaching the century mark with regard to its episode count.
Low (and getting lower) live viewing numbers don’t tell the whole story, however. As with the majority of television today (unless you're the Roseanne revival), S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t appointment television for most viewers, meaning more people tune in at their convenience. And in the case of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a lot more people are tuning in after the show has originally aired. The numbers aren’t Game of Thrones level, but they do see the show post a healthy gain in Live+7 viewers. Last month, TV By the Numbers reported the series posted an 88 percent 7-day increase in its viewing audience.
Those numbers will likely make a strong argument for the series to be handed a sixth season renewal in the coming weeks. Though S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t thrived on Friday nights, it has maintained a relatively stable audience, which may also work in its favor. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s modest numbers could be seen as reliable enough on a notoriously tricky night for network programming. It may be in ABC’s best interest to bet on a slow-but-sure horse than swap it out with one that might do much worse in the Friday night race.
It’s the Only Marvel Series ABC Has
Once upon a time, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a shining beacon of hope that network television could have its own loosely connected counterpart to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Those hopes were readjusted after a shaky first half of the show’s inaugural season, and they’ve been on a downward trend ever since. Most of that has to do with ABC’s inability or reluctance to launch spinoff series, like Marvel’s Most Wanted, Damage Control, and the secret project John Ridley has been working on that is probably not going to happen at this point.
Couple the nonfulfillment of those proposed series with the short-lived Agent Carter and the failure of Inhumans, a project that actually did get off the ground but proved incapable of surviving in the harsh conditions created by resoundingly poor reviews, and you’re left with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as the last remnant of Marvel’s once-promising network television supremacy. To bring an abrupt end to the series with season 5 would leave the studio without a comics-inspired program on a network owned by their mutual parent company, Disney.
In that sense, S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 may have a mixture of sentimentality and pride working in its favor. While ABC, Marvel, and Disney could easily say the series has hit the magic 100-episode mark and is now poised for a lucrative syndication package, therefore making it easy for the network and studios to call it a day, the lack of a proper final season, announced ahead of time and marketed as such, may not be in Marvel Television’s best interests.
A proper final season would give the creators a chance to end things on their terms, instead of asking the season 5 finale to also support the weight of a series climax. It would also stand the chance of generating additional interest among viewers, while giving Marvel Television and ABC a year to develop a suitable program to follow in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s funny book footsteps. Though the series remains on the bubble, these factors may play into it getting a (shortened or otherwise) season 6 renewal.
When A Renewal Might Happen
If season 6 is indeed in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s future, it’s likely that ABC won’t make an official announcement until the first part of May 2018. Sure, a renewal or cancelation notice could hit minutes from the time you’re reading this, but if the show’s renewal history is anything to go by, there are still a few more weeks of uncertainty to get through.
Because S.H.I.E.L.D. has never been a runaway smash hit, the series has had to take a number and get in line for renewal, like every other modestly successful series on broadcast television. And its number has traditionally been called in early May, when the networks’ renewal/cancelations are pretty much set in stone (unless your show’s name is Timeless, of course). With the season 5 finale still over a month away at this point (May 18, to be exact), it’s a good bet that ABC will make an announcement regarding the show’s future around that time.
If you’re a cynic, you can see how it might be advantageous for the network to wait until the last possible moment to deliver news of the show’s fate one way or the other, letting audiences tune to the end if season 5 with some uncertainty as to whether or not it is indeed the end of the series. While that sort of deviousness might result in a short-lived bump in ratings for the show, it would likely be better in the long run for the network to either announce a sixth season in advance of the finale or to treat the show’s cancelation like ripping off a band-aid — better to get it over with quickly. Either way, the network likely benefits: viewers ether tune in live to see how the series shakes out, or they have a renewed interest in what will likely be the show’s final season upon its return.
Though it’s not a done deal at this point, we can expect news soon. And while crazier things have happened, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a series that’s important enough in the Marvel-ABC-Disney (face-saving, fan-pleasing) scheme of things to warrant an end date announcement.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 continues Friday with ‘Inside Voices’ @ 9pm on ABC.