When "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." from Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel Studios was first announced, it seemed like the perfect way for Marvel Studios to capitalize on the success of films like The Avengers. A weekly view of the Marvel cinematic universe, from the point of view of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who investigate all of the strange happenings that we've seen in the movies? It was every Marvel fanboy's dream.
When the series premiered, though, it didn't seem to quite live up to a lot of people's expectations. During the first half of the season, the show was plagued with pacing issues and seemed to have problems balancing exposition and action. On top of that, much of what happened in the show seemed completely divorced from the larger Marvel universe that it was supposed to be a part of. While things have improved significantly in these regards, the show is still struggling to regain the audience that it started with.
Despite this, a second Marvel-based series may be in the works at ABC. While this new show could be a larger risk than "Agents," its different approach could also make it more of a hit.
Based on the Marvel One-Shot short film that explored the life of Captain America: The First Avenger's Peggy Carter after the film, the new "Agent Carter" show would further detail Carter's career and the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D. as an organization. Actress Hayley Atwell would return as the titular Carter, while Dominic Cooper's Howard Stark would likely return as a recurring guest star. While other Captain America stars might occasionally return as well, it's unlikely that they would play a significant role in the series.
According to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, a pilot script for the series has already been produced but the show has not been greenlit yet. The network supposedly liked the script, though, and there is a definite series idea in mind if it does move forward. Perhaps learning from some of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" troubles, "Agent Carter" would have a much stronger focus.
A limited series?
Instead of being a full-season show, "Agent Carter" would reportedly run as a limited series that would begin in 1946 and focus on a single case or event per year. The season would run for 13 episodes or less, and the next season would jump forward to a new case in 1947.
This is the same format being used for the Disney/Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) "Defenders" collaboration. "Daredevil" and the other shows in that deal will each feature a 13-episode first season, building up to the five-episode "Defenders" miniseries that caps off the project. Disney likely sees a lot of potential in the limited-series format for its Marvel properties, so potentially riskier properties like "Agent Carter" could adopt it in the future.
Would it work?
The big question, of course, is whether people would tune in to a period piece set in the Marvel cinematic universe. While "Agent Carter" was well received as a short and a number of people called for it to be expanded to a series after its release, that popularity doesn't necessarily translate to blockbuster ratings.
With a limited-series format and a more dedicated focus than "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.", however, "Agent Carter" has a lot of potential. It would cost less to hype a shorter series, and ABC could use it to fill gaps in its schedule while more popular shows are on hiatus. If it's successful, the network could even set up events in "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." or Marvel Studios films by introducing artifacts and other secrets that would show up again in the "future."
More importantly, ABC could use "Agent Carter" as an "event"-type series. By withholding new seasons until sweeps or scheduling it against weak shows on competing networks, ABC could score viewers (and advertisers) during the show's limited run that might otherwise be tuning in elsewhere.
What if it flops?
The biggest risk regarding "Agent Carter" is that it might have a harder time connecting with viewers who aren't Marvel fans or who haven't seen the original short. This could put ABC in a tricky position since it would then have two Marvel-themed shows struggling for viewers and might make some viewers question the direction that the network is taking.
Fortunately, the limited-series format would make it easier for ABC to let a preliminary season run its course and opt not to pick it up if it never finds an audience. If it serves as a fill-in while a more popular show takes a break, the network could hedge its bets in case it doesn't take off. While viewers might drop off, the return of a more popular show could draw those viewers back in.
Will 'Agent Carter' get a pilot order?
If the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier does well at the box office, ABC may try to capitalize on that success by greenlighting "Agent Carter" soon after. Even if the order doesn't come then, the show has too much potential for it to not get a green light sooner or later.
The bigger issue will be whether ABC can effectively fit the show into its schedule and use the limited-series format to draw an audience. With a limited number of episodes and a single overarching storyline for each season, ABC will need to handle its scheduling better than "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." if it wants "Agent Carter" to succeed.