Without a doubt, ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” is the show kept most under wraps for fall season. During a lunchtime screening of the pilot during the Alphabet’s TCA session, ABC employees walked up and down the darkened aisles in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton to confirm no one was filming the episode with a smart phone.
Even ABC Entertainment prez Paul Lee joked about the secrecy surrounding “Agents of SHIELD” during his exec session, stating, “I was screening, like, a three minute short from Marvel the other day at ABC, and the security guy came over to me and said, ‘Do you have an iPhone?’ I’m like, ‘Really? I’m going to pirate this?'”
For the producers of Marvel’s first journey to the small screen, this secrecy, they hope, will translate into increased urgency when it comes to viewing the drama Tuesdays this fall.
“From Marvel’s point of view, we live in a 24/7 news cycle,” said exec producer Jeph Loeb. He recalled an incident from day one of shooting on a very private military base, when a photo of an “Agents” vehicle snapped from the freeway near set went immediately viral online to his surprise and dismay. “We’re trying to bring back the urgency of television. While we welcome you downloading it, DVRing it, wouldn’t it be great to get together Tuesday nights…and watch live?” he asked, noting the joy behind the “social experience” of TV viewing.
Cast members, including Chloe Bennet, joked, “it was a good thing we liked each other, because we pretty much can only talk to each other.”
“I like keeping secrets,” remarked star Brett Dalton. “I think it’s a great reveal. It wasn’t that difficult for me to keep a secret, but Marvel security made sure that those secrets stayed on set like you wouldn’t believe.”
“I hate spoilers,” proclaimed Ming-Na Wen. “It ruins it when there’s behind-the-scenes photos of us on set. I think there are a lot of people who appreciate us being quiet.”
Buzz over “Agents of SHIELD” is understandable given the fanboy energy surrounding the Marvel universe and “Avengers” scribe and helmer Joss Whedon, who has attained cult status in the entertainment industry. Whedon aims, however, to draw people to “Agents” who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in the Marvel mythology.
“There will be synergey” between the Marvel films and the show, Whedon told journalists, “But we don’t want to just be an Easter egg farm. We want viewers to come back for these people [on stage], not the movies.”
Segueing Marvel into the television space — and to ABC, specifically — meant blending a procedural, “case of the week” feel to each episode with a constant, recurring vibe to the Marvel mythology.
“ABC is really active in making sure the show is what they want for their network and their audience,” Whedon noted.
There won’t be gratuitous nods to the Marvel universe, however.
“We won’t make references for the sake of making references,” explained exec producer Jed Whedon. Fellow exec producer Jeffrey Bell added that, while conceiving a character name, “There are about 5,000 characters in the Marvel universe…If we can find a name in that universe that means something to someone out there, if there’s a way to be inclusive, we’ll do that.”
But ultimately, Bell stated, “this is built to be a family show. We’re building this to be like what Joss did with ‘Avengers’: we hope it’s big and broad enough for everybody out there, but with specifics that fans can identify with.”
The biggest reference to the Marvel universe, in “Agents of SHIELD,” comes in the form of Clark Gregg’s character, Agent Phil Coulson, who is featured in several Marvel franchise films including “Iron Man,” “Thor” and “The Avengers.” While Marvel fans may scratch their heads over the very quick explanation as to why Coulson is still alive in the Marvel universe (spoiler from beginning of pilot: a faked death), the Whedon brothers assured journos that Coulson’s re-emergence will be explained with a several-episode arc during “Agents'” first season.
“Agents of SHIELD” is a tentpole effort by ABC to draw major viewership to the net, and some inquired as to whether that puts undue stress on the creatives of the show.
“If we thought about that…” Jed Whedon said, before exec producer Maurissa Tancharoen butted in, “We’d never leave our houses!”
“Agents of SHIELD” will debut on Sept. 24 on ABC.