The Marvel Cinematic Universe can be broken down into three smaller universes - though a distinction already exists between Marvel Studios and Marvel TV in terms of the company's breakdown. There's the film side that will soon enter its third phase with the release of Captain America: Civil War; the ABC television universe that includes Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, and a number of other projects in various stages of development; and lastly, there's Marvel's Defenders universe, which is hosted by Netflix. The Netflix universe consists of existing series Daredevil and Jessica Jones, as well as the upcoming shows Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and a team up of The Defenders. Additionally, a Punisher spinoff series was recently reported to be in development as well.
However, while we have a basic idea of what's going on with ABC's shows - both Damage Control and the S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff Most Wanted have been ordered to pilot, so they could be ready to premiere at some point during the 2016-2017 television season - we don't know very much about Marvel's Netflix slate. The deal between Marvel and Netflix that would launch the Defenders universe was announced in 2013, and at the time it included four character drama series and a miniseries event - a total of 60 episodes, which granted each character a 13-episode season with 8 left for the team-up event. Although we know what series to expect, Marvel and Netflix have diverted from this plan because of Daredevil season 2, and they have additionally kept their release slate close to the vest.
At this time, we only have a concrete premiere date for Daredevil season 2, which arrives March 2016, and we know Luke Cage season 1 will debut in the later part of the year. The Marvel and Netflix release slate seemed simple when it was first announced - a season for each character, then the team-up miniseries - but now they have already diverted from that path. Add in the fact that Netflix recently confirmed Jessica Jones will receive a second season and the Punisher spinoff that's rumored to be in development, and we have to wonder: How will extra seasons and spinoffs affect Marvel's plan for its Defenders universe?
During the Television Critics Association winter press tour, where Jessica Jones season 2 was announced, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos spoke about the Marvel release slate. As reported by TVLine, Sarandos said the universe is largely being built around the Defenders miniseries: "The complex [part] is really running into The Defenders. [That] production schedule will affect a lot of the season 2 and season 3 outputs [for other Marvel projects].” So, although this doesn't necessarily confirm Jessica Jones season 2 will be postponed until after The Defenders, it certainly hints that may be the case.
On the topic of when Jessica Jones would return to Netflix for another season, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg spoke to THR about the contractual obligations of this corner of the Marvel universe shortly after season 1 premiered:
"The question becomes is there actual time? There are logistics involved, because Defenders has to shoot by a certain time, contractually. Actually, I’m not sure; I’m not at all involved in those conversations, much to my dismay. The first question is whether or not we will even get a second season. The second question is, if so, when? Will it be before The Defenders or after? I’d certainly love it to be before but there are things that play into that — time, availability."
At the time, we speculated this might be because The Defenders miniseries may be obligated to arrive before Avengers: Infinity War, especially if the two-part cinematic team-up is meant to focus on a new wave of Avengers. We now know Infinity War will definitely focus on secondary characters, and the films will begin production later in 2016. Additionally, Infinity War co-director Anthony Russo recently gave a vague answer about the possibility of the Defenders showing up on the big screen, saying "it's complicated" and citing the tumultuous relationship between Marvel Studios and Marvel TV as a reason for this complication - though he didn’t completely shoot down the idea.
So, we don't know for sure if The Defenders are contractually obligated to team-up before Avengers: Infinity War or whether they’ll appear in the films, but we do know that Marvel is scheduling many of its other Netflix shows around the miniseries. Sticking to their original plan to introduce the characters of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist is reminiscent of Marvel Studios' lead up to The Avengers - taking the time to explore each character and slowly build up their universe before featuring a team-up or spinning off new characters into their own franchises. If Marvel TV and Netflix are following a similar path to Marvel Studios' Phase 1 and only follow the four core heroes, then the second season of Jessica Jones and the Punisher spinoff could arrive after The Defenders, launching their own second phase.
That being said, we still don't know what Marvel and Netflix are planning for the coming years. Certainly, we've known for a while that the timetable of release dates isn't steadfast, with Sarandos confirming as much at last year's TCA winter press tour. Along those lines, Jason Lynch of AdWeek is reporting that at this year's TCA press tour Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb said they haven't figured out yet which Netflix show will arrive after Luke Cage:
Jeph Loeb just told me that Marvel hasn’t decide which Netflix series will air after Luke Cage. “We’re figuring that out.” #TCA16
— Jason Lynch (@jasonlynch) January 17, 2016
In terms of production schedules, Iron Fist is currently in the stages of casting, with the show receiving an official synopsis and tapping showrunner Scott Buck (Dexter) at the end of 2015. As a result, it seems likely Iron Fist will arrive at some point in 2017 - either in the early or later part. Furthermore, at the TCA press tour, EW is reporting Sarandos spoke about the quality and number of Marvel series fans can expect to arrive on Netflix each year:
“Right now, these are produced at the scale of a major film, so there are long production times and long post times. In some case, when we have character crossover, it makes it more difficult to manage production. It’s not the goal to put out more than one or two out a year.”
So, despite heroes receiving second season orders and rumors of spinoffs for characters established in the four core series, Marvel and Netflix won't be releasing more than two seasons a year of its various programs. As for spinoffs, Sarandos spoke about the possibility, saying "Any character that's in there is on the table, but [there's] nothing to talk about." He was specifically asked about the Punisher spinoff, but refused to comment on it despite reports that Marvel and Netflix are looking for a showrunner to take on the project.
If we're comparing the expanding Defenders universe to Marvel Studios' Phase 1, Daredevil is akin to Iron Man insofar as it will be the only property to receive a sequel/second season before the big team-up. Additionally, Daredevil is the flagship of the Marvel's Netflix universe and the show's second season is being used as a vehicle to introduce other major players like Frank Castle a.k.a. Punisher (Jon Bernthal) as well as Elektra (Élodie Yung) - similar to how Iron Man 2 introduced Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) before she appeared as a main character in The Avengers. This comparison also lends itself to the possibility of these new Daredevil characters appearing in the universe's team-up miniseries, though there’s nothing to suggest Marvel has considered it either way.
Of course, that's not to say Marvel and Netflix don't have a lot of potential in their other offerings. The Punisher is a fan-favorite character from the comics, so the potential spinoff already has a lot of interest from fans even though we have yet to see Bernthal's portrayal of Frank Castle, though it has been teased as being "extraordinarily memorable." Additionally, the introduction of Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) on Jessica Jones could possibly lead to a Hellcat spinoff series if Sarandos' comments about Marvel and Netflix being open to any player in the Netflix shows headlining their own programs.
Despite all the excitement for potential spinoffs, however, if Netflix and Marvel start including new series now it will likely derail their schedule for The Defenders. So, given that their plans for the universe hinge on the team-up event, it seems to be the case that Jessica Jones season 2, the Punisher standalone series, and any other spinoffs will be postponed until after The Defenders miniseries. But with The Defenders arriving at some point in the next few years, fans can also expect Netflix's corner of the Marvel universe to continue grow with new shows and seasons just like the MCU has expanded on ABC and in film.
Daredevil season 1 and Jessica Jones season 1 are now available on Netflix. Daredevil season 2 will debut on Netflix on March 18th, 2016, followed by Luke Cage season 1 later in 2016. Release dates for Jessica Jones season 2, Iron Fist, and The Defenders on Netflix have not yet been announced. We’ll keep you updated on the Punisher spinoff as development continues.