When it was announced that Joss Whedon had signed an agreement with ABC to create a television series spun-off from his blockbuster movie The Avengers, we immediately began to wonder how this show (which is said to focus on the shadowy government agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D.) might interact with the existing Marvel Studios cinematic universe. A key selling point of Marvel Studios’ theatrical efforts over the past decade has been that, like the Marvel comic books they use as source material, characters all exist within one, shared universe, giving them the freedom to bump into one another from time to time and join forces to battle threats too great for any one hero to face by his or herself.
In particular, we wondered how this television show would work without Nick Fury, the canonical head of SHIELD and a character portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson in all of Marvel Studios’ films to date. Though no financial details were revealed at the time, it seemed unlikely that ABC could afford an actor of Jackson’s caliber for the entirety of the show’s run (or, at the very least, that the network would prefer a less expensive option).
It seems however, that Joss Whedon has a plan: Instead of filming a show about the same SHIELD characters we’re familiar with from the Marvel Studios films, he would instead create a series focusing on SHIELD employees that we have yet to meet and the adventures they inevitably have as minor cogs in the vast Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In an interview with MTV published yesterday, Whedon claims that he is “very far” along in the process of plotting out the series, before being asked exactly how he plans to create stories about SHIELD without centering the show on the cinematic characters that have made “SHIELD” a recognizable acronym among people who’ve never touched a comic book. “It’s new characters. It needs to be its own thing,” Whedon promptly replied. “It needs to be adjacent [to existing Marvel Cinematic Universe canon] but you don’t want to do a show where you’re constantly going, ‘Iron Man just left, but he was totally here a minute ago.’ You want them to do their own thing.”
When asked what “their own thing” might be, Whedon offered the following: “Well, what does S.H.I.E.L.D. have that the other superheroes don’t? And that, to me, is that they’re not superheroes, but they live in that universe. Even though they’re a big organization, that makes them underdogs, and that’s interesting to me.”
Though we’re still curious to hear about the cast Whedon et alia assembles for the television show, our takeaway from the above comments is that Whedon has spent a lot of time figuring out the tough questions of how to positively add to the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe on a budget that must be a mere fraction of what he was given to create The Avengers. And again, it’s helpful to note that Whedon is one of the few auteurs who has successfully created a spin-off television series based on a popular feature film starring an entirely new cast. When Buffy The Vampire Slayer premiered in 1997 there were doubts that Whedon could capture the humor and dark tone of the 1992 Buffy The Vampire Slayer film without stars Kristy Swanson, Luke Perry and Paul Reubens, but with an entirely new cast Whedon was able to keep the TV show running for a impressive six seasons, and Buffy fans almost universally agree that the TV series was superior to the film that spawned it. Only time will tell if Whedon can repeat the feat, but we’re intrigued nonetheless.