Head of Marvel TV Jeph Loeb believes Marvel is enough of a draw that fans will tune in for Inhumans and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., even on a Friday night. That will be interesting to see unfold, as when it comes to television scheduling there are certain time slots that even the most optimistic producer might turn their nose up at. Chief among them is a Friday night at 9pm time slot, which is when ABC plans to drop the upcoming eight-episode season of Inhumans, as well as the upcoming fifth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The time slot is a challenging one to be sure, especially for a show like S.H.I.E.L.D., which has never been a huge ratings hit for ABC. But it also speaks to some of the preliminary concerns regarding the impression that Marvel's Inhumans has been making ahead of its September bow in IMAX theaters. For an event series to be scheduled on a night not typically thought of as a guaranteed ratings winner, may raise a few eyebrows.
In the case of Marvel's Inhumans, the series is already facing an uphill battle. Filled with characters audiences are not readily familiar with, and marketed with a tame trailer even the director didn't like, the Friday night placement doesn't immediately inspire confidence. But Loeb doesn't see it that way. Following the Inhumans panel at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, I had the chance to ask Loeb about Marvel's place on the ABC schedule. He told me:
"There are other shows that have debuted on a Friday night that have lived in the genre world. The other thing that excited us enormously was to have Once Upon a Time as our lead-in.
It was always a challenge when we were on Tuesday nights. We were either the one that started the night without anybody that could do that, or we had comedies that were in front of us. And so being able to have something that at least exists in our world, in a world that has genre elements, in a world that has special effects, and a world that has larger than life characters, all of those things lend themselves -- you could more see, 'Okay, I just finished watching Once Upon a Time and when the guy says, 'Coming up next is Marvel's Inhumans or coming up next is Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.', it's a little different than, I'm watching Speechless and they're going 'And right after Speechless Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,' and we're sort of going 'Yeah, we're a little speechless too.'
We do know that people are going to watch the show on the next day, and what better day to watch it than on a Saturday or Sunday? A large part of our audience is a family. And that family -- certainly in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s case -- we've felt that once we moved to ten o'clock had no choice but to then watch the show on the next night. Certainly that's what happened in my house. And so, being on a Friday night at nine o'clock, we actually think that a large part of our audience can actually come to us because they're home. This is a good night to watch television. So, we're ready to take it on."
Loeb is right when he says Friday nights have been kind to genre fare in the past. The X-Files, for example, started on that night and may have actually succeeded in part because that time slot allowed it to fly under the radar until the show found its groove. But flying the Marvel banner and with a premiere in IMAX a few weeks prior, Inhumans won't have a chance to figure things out away from prying eyes. The series is going to have to come out swinging if it's going to attract a wide audience, and while the theatrical premiere will help in that regard, it remains to be seen just how much.
It's understandable for Marvel to be confident that it can attract loyal Marvel-ites to Friday nights, or that families will at least watch its shows (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. included) a day or two after they air live. But the question remains whether general audiences will tune in, and if the company's faithful will be enough to make Inhumans a hit.
Marvel's Inhumans premieres in IMAX on September 1, and on ABC on Friday, September 29.