Warning: This article contains spoilers!
Before I write anything else, let me be clear: Despite what the skeptics are saying, I'm still not convinced Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is in trouble.
But I'll admit on the surface it sure seems that way; Ratings for Disney's (NYSE:DIS) new comic book-based show have steadily marched downward since its monstrous debut, with last week's episode earning a series-low 2.2 in the widely cited overall 18 to 49-year-old demographic.
What most of the headlines won't tell you, however, is that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so far has more than doubled ABC's year-ago delivery with that same group of adults, and finished number one in its hour last Tuesday for the seventh consecutive time in the key men's 18-49 demographic. In addition, according to ABC, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last week also tied for first place for teens ages 12 to 17.
Don't get me wrong; it's impressive knowing CBS' (NYSE:CBS) hit crime drama NCIS can repeatedly command between 18 million and 20 million viewers every Tuesday evening, or more than twice that of an average episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But that train of thought also ignores that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s viewers are, on average, technically more valuable to advertisers.
As a result, and as industry pundits continually point to new ratings lows, it seems nothing will make them happy short of improving those misleading overall numbers.
This could appease the naysayers
And that's where this week's "test" comes in.
If you recall, earlier this month the folks at Marvel announced a significant crossover between Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and their newly launched box office blockbuster Thor: The Dark World, teasing:
In the aftermath of the events chronicled in the feature film Marvel's Thor: The Dark World, Coulson and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pick up the pieces -- one of which threatens to destroy a member of the team on Tuesday, November 19.
Naturally, Disney's hoping this could mean a solid ratings boost for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this week -- a fair assumption considering Thor: The Dark World has mustered an amazing $480 million in worldwide ticket sales so far, including nearly $147 million from U.S. audiences over the past two weeks alone. That's well ahead of the roughly $450 million total pulled in by the first Thor during its entire 16-week theatrical run back in 2011.
To be sure, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s affiliation with Marvel's enormously profitable films has always stood out as its single largest avenue for bringing in new viewers, and fans have watched closely for any major movie tie-ins since its debut.
And that's exactly what makes this week's collaborative effort so important; If Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can ride a wave of Thor-infused enthusiasm to convince more eyeballs to tune in every week, it could silence critics who are questioning the show's long-term viability. Not only that, but it would also validate Disney and Marvel's brave decision to employ multiple character sets operating in the same universe across different entertainment mediums.
Of course, this also begs the question: Why has it taken so long for anyone to do this on any meaningful scale? I think today's special effects can take at least some of the credit. Now, modern-day CGI has enabled creative teams -- especially those working in television -- to convincingly portray these intertwined stories with a sense of realism the general public can finally appreciate. This, in turn, is arguably increasing cultural acceptance for die-hard fans formerly loathe to admit they actually love reading comics.
If one thing's certain, it's that today is a great time to be a Marvel fan, so I'll be watching closely to see whether tonight's tie-in efforts make a difference.
In the meantime, in case you can't wait to get taste of this week's episode, here's a sneak peak posted by Marvel this weekend:
Fool contributor Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.