The term "Marvel Cinematic Universe" honestly just scratches the surface of the ever-expanding media empire that Marvel Studios has been developing since 2008. Thanks to the groundbreaking success of the first Avengers film a few years back, they were able to branch out into the realm of television, adding two ABC shows (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter) and a full slate of Netflix original series (starting with Daredevil) to their repertoire of comic book adaptations.
Still, the films remain the top priority (as evidenced by the massive marketing campaign for this week's Avengers: Age of Ultron) for Marvel, even if they have to balance out multiple facets to keep everything connected and cohesive. It's such an undertaking for the behind-the-scenes crew that one could see how things could get a little tense at Marvel. According to Joss Whedon, there was in fact a schism between the movie people and TV people at the studio.
While speaking with IGN, the Age of Ultron director revealed that there were some none too pleased with the creation of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., particularly with what it meant for the Agent Coulson character (who was seemingly killed by Loki in The Avengers) and the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization itself:
"I think actually the movie people were a little bit cross about the TV show. 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. We also 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!"
Whedon's comments about "complications" hint at the trappings of putting together such an expansive multimedia franchise that spans various outlets. Marvel movie directors have admitted in the past how confusing it could be trying to get everything to fit together, so the presence of a TV show probably only made matters worse. Based on this quote, one could easily see why Warner Bros. and DC are interested in keeping their film and television worlds separate, giving different creative teams enough freedom to work on their own terms.
Though Whedon has said in the past that Marvel was never expecting him to churn out a television program as part of his deal to oversee Phase 2 of the MCU, they have done a great job of balancing it all out. Yes, there were some speed bumps in the early going, but season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has generated a strong response (while teasing a future of Inhumans for Phase 3 of the films to build upon) and Daredevil earning praise for seamlessly combining Avengers references with an origin story for a new hero. While there might have been some butting heads when it was all first announced, these days it looks like the operation is running much more smoothly now that they've had some time to work it out.
It will be interesting to follow this aspect of the MCU as we move along to the Infinity War that's happening in the near future. Regarding the subject of Coulson, Whedon has maintained throughout his press tour that as far as the movies go, the agent remains deceased because of what that emotionally means for the Avengers team - and that the films are made for audiences that see only those projects of the franchise. Theoretically, this means that a viewer can go into each Marvel feature with limited knowledge of the TV shows and still enjoy it.
However, there may come a day when all the forces of the universe must unite against a common foe, which would throw a monkey wrench in Whedon's plan. As the franchise continues to grow, there will be more pressure on Kevin Feige and company to keep everything in a way that any viewer can turn on a Marvel movie and get a kick out of it.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron will be in theaters May 1, 2015; Ant-Man on July 17, 2015; Captain America: Civil War - May 6, 2016; Doctor Strange - November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 - May 5, 2017; Spider-Man reboot - July 28, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok - November 3, 2017; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 - May 4, 2018; Black Panther - July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel - November 2, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 - May 3, 2019; Inhumans - July 12, 2019.