Just this morning we reported the news that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be moving to a new time at 10pm on Tuesday nights for its upcoming fourth season. This is an interesting development on a number of levels, but before we get into reading the metaphorical tea leaves, let’s hear what ABC themselves has to say about this.
Per IGN, Channing Dungey, president of ABC, has said that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s newer, later time slot will allow them to “go a little bit edgier, go a little darker and take some risks.” That’s all well and good, and it’s sure to be enough to appease fans who equate the word ‘darker’ with ‘better’ (spoiler: making S.H.I.E.L.D. ‘darker’ and ‘edgier’ will not address any of the show’s underlying problems), but it’s not the full story. Dungey follows that quote with another that, I believe, is much closer to the heart of the matter:
“[This shift is] less about moving S.H.I.E.L.D. to 10 and more feeling we had a big bench of comedies. The schedule kind of fell into place in that way.”
The way I’m reading this is that the Marvel shows, specifically Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., are no longer really ABC’s priority. Because this move to 10 o’clock is not happening in isolation. It comes right on the heels of ABC cancelling Agent Carter and passing on the proposed S.H.I.E.L.D. spin-off series Marvel’s Most Wanted. The simple fact of that matter is that these comic book-based shows are generally more expensive than their peers and have never, ever had outstanding ratings. Agent Carter had a fairly dismal 2.7 million weekly viewers in its second season while S.H.I.E.L.D. is averaging about 3.5 million. To put that in perspective, The Muppets (which was cancelled) had 4 million, Fresh Off the Boat has 4.4, Black-ish has 5.9, and Modern Family has nearly 8 million. And all of these comedies cost a fraction of what the effects-heavy Marvel shows do.
It’s the same reason that Supergirl got booted over to The CW even with a weekly average of about 7.7 million viewers. It was just too expensive for CBS to keep on hand. With ABC cancelling or passing on all but one Marvel show, and moving the remaining series to 10pm in favor of comedies, I think the writing is on the walls for the end of Marvel at ABC.
Now, as I’m sure you will all so graciously point out in the comments, this is all purely speculative on my part, and is, in fact, in direct contradiction to what ABC is officially saying. Again from Dungey:
We are in extensive conversations with Marvel. I had a really long talk with Dan Buckley from Marvel last week. We’re very excited about a few things we have in development. We think there’s a long future ahead and excited to explore it together.
But, of course, when speaking to the press she’s not going to say outright that the Marvel TV experiment has failed and throw Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. under the bus in the process. She’s going to put on a brave face and say that everything is fine. But I believe that the Marvel TV experiment has failed (at least on network television, the Netflix stuff will continue and we might see more shows showing up on cable like Cloak and Dagger). Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will putter along to its conclusion and after that, I doubt we’ll see any new weekly Marvel shows on ABC.
The one potential wildcard here is Damage Control which, unlike the other Marvel shows, would explicitly be a comedy and could perhaps be better suited to the model ABC is pursuing right now. For now, though, I don’t think Marvel has much of a future at ABC, and ultimately, that’s probably for the best. Despite their successes in film and streaming, they’ve never been able to fit comfortably in the space of network television. Cutting their losses and focusing on the things that are actually working is better for everyone.