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.DL) 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.