Can Anyone Get the Superhero TV Show Right?

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After half a season of teasing, ABC's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (from Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) Marvel Studios) finally revealed what happened to Agent Phil Coulson after the events of The Avengers. The show managed to avoid taking the most obvious route, and drew around half a million more viewers than it had for its mid-season finale. This was still only around half of the 12.12 million viewers that it pulled in with its pilot episode, though showrunners had to be relieved that viewership had increased after dropping almost every week of the season so far.

The show's less-than-stellar performance seems especially poor when compared to the other major superhero-related show on the air: "Arrow." Based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow, the show has received a significant amount of positive buzz and even won a TV Guide Fan Favorite Award for favorite new series. Though the show averages only around half of the viewers that "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has been earning lately, it also airs on a much smaller network (the CBS (NYSE: CBS  ) /Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) owned CW.)

"Arrow" seems to generally be a better show than "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," despite the latter having a direct connection to a popular film franchise and a position on one of the "Big Three" networks. While it's possible that "Agents" will be able to fix some of its problems through moves such as the introduction of recurring guest star Bill Paxton for an upcoming story arc, unless it can learn from its mistakes in fairly short order then its time may be limited.

The future of television
With the success of superhero films in recent years and both Disney and Time Warner expanding on existing franchises, it should come as little surprise that more superhero-based shows are on the way. While one is generating some excitement, a few others are leaving fans scratching their heads.

Perhaps the most anticipated of these is a spinoff of "Arrow" that follows Barry Allen, aka the Flash. The character was introduced on "Arrow" last year, with his episodes originally intended to be a backdoor pilot to a larger series. With the popularity of the character on the show, though, a full pilot was ordered and will film later this year. Fans are excited because the new series will allow for the use of more super powers within the world of "Arrow" while keeping the original show's grounded view largely intact; unpowered characters will appear on "Arrow," while powered characters may appear with no problems on the "Flash" spinoff.

The Flash isn't the only DC Comics character being adapted for the small screen, either. Fans seem less enthusiastic about the other major DC character making the transition, though. "Gotham," set to debut on Twenty-First Century Fox's (NASDAQ: FOX  ) Fox network, will follow a younger James Gordon in the years before he became commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department. Batman's alter-ego Bruce Wayne has been confirmed to appear in the series, but is slated to only be a 12-year-old boy (though similar to the Superman series "Smallville," Wayne will supposedly don the cape and cowl in the final episode of the series.) Classic "Batman" villains are supposed to appear in younger forms as well, though much of the information released to date makes the show sound like a fairly standard police procedural with some Batman-themed name-dropping.

A step in the right direction
Despite the problems it's facing with "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," Marvel Studios is pushing ahead with more small-screen heroes in hopes of landing a hit. Rumor has it that the studio is keen to move forward with another television project based on its Agent Carter short film. The series would revolve around the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D., likely reducing the budget a bit from "Agents" as there wouldn't be a need for quite as many high-tech devices in the years after World War II. Agent Carter stars Haley Atwell and Dominic Cooper are both interested in the series if it does move forward.

Also on Marvel's slate is its groundbreaking deal with Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX  ) that will serve as somewhat of a miniature version of what the studio has done with the "Avengers" franchise. Starting in 2015, four individual original series will come together for a "Defenders" miniseries set within the Marvel universe.

Big heroes on the small screen
Part of the reason that "Arrow" has succeeded while "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has floundered is that the former isn't afraid to show a major hero via a television series. "Agents" is set within the Marvel universe, but aside from a couple of brief cameos and a few references to the events of Thor: The Dark World, it seems largely unrelated to what has been built on the big screen. In a world where superheroes exist, the studio needs to be willing to use a few of its D-list characters to build up interest among fans. If it can't find a way to draw viewers in beyond occasional name-drops then ABC may have no choice but to depower its Agents permanently.

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Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (2)

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  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2014, at 3:37 PM, msorrentino wrote:

    Agents of SHIELD isn't supposed to be about superheroes it's about the agents of SHIELD, therefore it doesn't require superheroes to show up.

  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2014, at 4:23 PM, ionracer24 wrote:

    Yeah, no, smallville was an epic failure of the highest magnitude. Not having batman appear till the end, is just repeating the failure. Smallville could of been a great show. The no flights, no tights rule ruined it for everyone who had the misfortune of tuning in every week hoping beyond hope that those morons would get a clue and let clark fly. It never happened, that's why their dvd sales are in the toilet. Gotham, what a joke, without batman....

  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2014, at 5:43 PM, CalvinballPro wrote:

    "Arrow" is not about a superhero, it's about a rich vigilante with a bow and zero superpowers. This greatly impacts the budget vs shows that spend on more than just archery lessons.

  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2014, at 6:00 PM, DWM18 wrote:

    jonracer24, Batman was never on Smallville, but the show was all about Superman's development and how he goes from being Clark Kent to being The Man of Steel.

  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2014, at 7:57 PM, InvisibleZombie wrote:

    ionracer24 was referring to where the article mentioned that Batman wouldn't appear until the last episode of "Gotham". I'm also a Bat-fan that's "less-enthused" about the premise of it. Costume tights don't always translate well onto live actors (with the exception of Lynda Carter!) but some of these shows go so far to distance themselves from actual super-heroes, to be so "real world" that they might as well be "Person of Interest".

    "Gotham" looks to be replicating "Smallville" which, while it had so much going for it, hesitated in the CW Universe so long it never delivered the money shot. It was 10 seasons of foreplay. I'm actually hoping "Gotham" just never gets to the air.

  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2014, at 8:23 PM, Wolfimg wrote:

    They can if done right and have the full support of all players involved. Smallville did well over the years, a show doesn't last 10 years for nothing. Did it have its problems? Sure, what show doesn't. Most of Smallville issues had to do to with the restrictions the show kept on get, from not being able to have Lois and Clark as a couple of foreshadowing anything until after Superman Returned airs in theater, not allowing Batman to appear on the show, so they went with second choice Green Arrow, which had that not happened we probably would not have Arrow. So Arrow owes a lot to Smallville which brought new life to Green Arrow.

    Other problems Smallville had was budget was cut. Then during season 7 we had the whole writers strike going on and whole most of the episodes were already written. They did have to change a few things because of the writers strike and during that time a lot of shows had this problem. And it did hurt some of the shows, Heroea which started out as a great show did seem to take a big hit from the writers strike, but it likely was not the whole reason the show failed in the end.

    The other major complaint people made about Smallville was the whole suite thing. I've heard things like DC and Warner wouldn't allow Tom Welling to wear it to Tom Welling not being the one to want to wear it. Now I a huge fun of the so really didn't care one way or the other if we saw Tom in full gear or not. The show was always about him becoming Superman, growing up learning about his origin and so on. So in my book Smallville is one of th successful super hero shows. And if Arrow keeps going the way it has been, it too will be a success.

    Now whether Agents of Shield will last only time will tell. It did have a rough start. Now as for Flash, if the show does what Arrow is doing them it should have no problem. Now as for Gotham, that will all depend on if fan wants to see a series involving Gordon and a ten year old Bruce Wayne. Remember the CW did have a series plane for a teenage Richard Greyson, but it fell through and never made it to screen.

  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2014, at 8:27 PM, ChrisC wrote:

    Bring back the Six Million Dollar Man!

  • Report this Comment On January 16, 2014, at 2:21 AM, TheRedArrow wrote:

    @ionracer24 wrote:

    Smallville was an epic failure? It pulled in way more viewers than Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones...

  • Report this Comment On January 17, 2014, at 10:32 AM, Phadreus wrote:

    I love S.H.I.E.L.D. I love ot mainly because it does what the Fool suggested in a previous article sets the ground work over time for innovations in the Marvel Universe...correct that COULD set the ground work. Yes I think oneof the biggest problems is not having Fury, Hill and whoever it is that Robert Redford is supposed to be making cameos throughout the series. At the very least Black Widow and Hawkeye who are S.H.I.E.L.D agents along with Tony Stark/Ironman and Captain America should have more than name drop status which given the problems with movie stars still not wanting to do T.V. The other thing is atleast in my opinion S.H.I.E.L.D is trying to stay too close to the orindinary everyday spy model which is actually in a great deal of flux right now. Those of us who remember (and I am 62 and old enough) know S.H.I.E.L.D first came into being as a take on U.N.C.L.E, Smerch and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. type oganizations of the mid-sixites James Bond era. Now S.H.I.E.L.D as will as the larger Marvel Universe don't quite know how to spin patroitism. I said in a post yesterday that S.H.I.E.L.D should deal with the threats from super private criminal organizations, like HYDRA, A.I.M, the Hand, Fu Manchu's group, as well as super-villian threats. Fury is supposed to be a super-hero of sorts himself beening every bit as old as Captain America (Infinity formula) and if it hadn't been for some ROI idiot's bright idea to turn Fury into an African-American it may not have been such a problem. I am African-American myself and hve been a serious (obviousily) fan of comics since I was 9 years old.

    My problem with Nick Fury as a African-American are the fact that he is again one of the main icons of Marvel and more importantly there were several African/ African-American icon to chose from so that you didn't have to make Fury black.

    And again let me be clear I am opposed to the idea of a black Nick Fury, but I am NOT at all opposed to Sam L's performance which since the deed is done his performance I think should be exspanded and one of the ways is more time on the small screen. This super-hero thing can be a great benefit to Film and Television. It can exspand the properties which can be seen as a safe investment for money people and it can challenge those who love the genres to be creative in how they deal with the very problems we're discussing here in these blogs and articles. As I have said elsewhere I spent my obligatory time in Hollywood and had to, "find the Way to San Jose", catch the "Midnight Train to Georgia"

    " the time I got to Phoenix" in other word's it did work out well so I have some idea of how the world works there. I am sure that 20 years later (fifty years before) it's still buggie-wonderland so many of these things my never be resolved. I'm sure Joss Whedon is not the only truly creative voice out there but he is probably theonly one with a family background in this industry and knows more about theups and downs then most others though I am sure he is helping to hip others to how it is. T.V. is going to have probably create some kind of Marvel/D.C network where the shows the fans what to see can be developed and shown. The Sci-Fi network is a good place to consider but until a new way of producing come along we will have to suffer from these attempts to be the next, "24", "LOST", "Twilight" or "Avengers". Hint it's not going to happen by imitation. Look at how poorly all the attempts at Vampires are "not-doing". No super-hero projects are aboutmore than just money making though if done right money can be made. By the way bring back Daredevil and Electra. Blade was orginally part of Spiderman's world let do some of that and what about T'challa The Black Panther, and Ms. Marvel, Captain Carol Davers...just to name a very few. Thes are characters with gratis, history and could make it on the big and little screens if people were willing to take the risks necessary.

  • Report this Comment On January 17, 2014, at 12:15 PM, Amberyerno wrote:

    I'd still love to see an X-Films TV spinoff, especially as a way to introduce less-familiar characters like X-23 as a way to build them up a fanbase.

  • Report this Comment On January 17, 2014, at 12:26 PM, chaburchak wrote:

    SHIELD could be done without focusing on superheroes all the time, as long as the regulars themselves were halfway interesting. So far, aside from Coulsen and maybe Melinda May, these child-agents are either boring or downright irritating. They would've been better served just following Coulsen around as he worked with different people in the Marvel universe rather than building this Scooby Doo team that doesn't even bother to dress like SHIELD agents...

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John Casteele

John Casteele is a freelance writer, editor, and occasional web cartoonist. He prefers long-term investments, largely in retail, medical, and tech.

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