If you’re looking for intel on Marvel’s upcoming ABC TV series, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., a good place to start would be with Executive Producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, the talented writers who will be guiding the Helicarrier or piloting “Lola” throughout the vast world of characters that is the Marvel Universe.
We spoke with them at this year’s Comic-Con about the experience of bringing Phil Coulson and the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to television. For starters, is this difficult to do on a TV budget that is clearly not what was afforded for Marvel’s The Avengers?
“It’s a challenge, but what we are going is just looking at it through a different lens,” Tancharoen says. “We are telling more human stories within that extraordinary universe. Coulson was — is the human face in all of the movies you’ve seen, and now he has a team of real people who don’t have super powers, but they are skilled in their own way and they’re dealing with this extraordinary world.”
These real people are a very important part of what makes Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. relatable to the audience. “The movies each follow someone who has some crazy power, and they’re thrilling, and they cost many, many monies, but we feel like you can relate to the human aspect. It’s hard to relate to a guy who’s a god. He’s a god. We feel you can relate in a different way to the humans on the ground, in a world where these people exist. The Battle of New York happened. We saw aliens come out of the sky. So the world has changed, and what is it like to be a real person with no super powers in a world where people do have those powers? We think those are compelling stories to tell,” Whedon explains.
Also making Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. easy for the everyperson to get into is a succession of standalone episodes with underlying continuing mytharcs. “It’s a nice balance between [them],” Maurissa says. “Much like what Joss [Whedon] did with Buffy or Angel or any of his shows. Each episode will be standalone, but there will be a mythology weaved throughout.”
Also weaving into the TV series will be tie-ins to the Marvel world of movies. In fact, the show’s pilot episode contains — spoiler warning! — a major tie-in to Iron Man 3. “Our goal is to weave throughout what already exists in the movies, and what we’ve established on the show. So, we hope to complement what happens; supplement what happens, and vice versa,” Tancharoen says. “The Marvel Universe is so vast, so if we think we’re coming up with some new character, we’re like ‘Oh. Can somebody do that?’ And the answer is yes.”
“We want to make it more rewarding if you watch both, than if you just watch one. So we can deal with fallout after a feature, or tee some things up, but there are a lot of parties involved. It’s a huge machine that we are in. So, it’s a process, but a rewarding one, and it’s very fun, for sure,” Jed Whedon adds. That is not to say, though, that any Marvel character can be referenced or seen on the show. “There’s all sorts of rules in place,” Jed explains. “There’s different properties owned by different people, and there’s stuff that they have slotted away for features… the whole process is ongoing in terms of ‘here’s a story we want to tell. How can we tell it? What’s our framework?’ But within that framework, there’s so much that it doesn’t limit us in any way.”
Those who don’t know the Marvel Universe still shouldn’t be lost when watching the TV show. “Sometimes I feel like [when there is] someone who doesn’t know something, there’s a way that you can just say it where it sounds like it’s part of the world, and it fleshes out the world, where it is relatable to someone who does know what it is, and it’s extremely exciting,” Whedon says.
“You don’t have to be a Marvel fan to watch the show to relate to it and enjoy it,” Tancharoen adds. “At least, that’s our goal. It’s a Joss Whedon show. What he does is he takes emotionally compelling moments, and puts them in extreme circumstances. We have the benefit of being able to do that, because we are existing in the Marvel Universe, where everything is extraordinary.”
“Our approach is to try to make something that we enjoy, personally, because we think that if we enjoy it, then other people will enjoy it, regardless of whether or not they are fans are not,” Whedon says. As for costumed characters… could we see them? Both were a bit coy in answering, though Jed Whedon did say “perhaps.”
“It’s not off limits,” Maurissa adds. It’s not just a spy show; we’re hoping to do a little bit of everything.”
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. premieres Tuesday, September 24 on ABC. Come back soon for more interviews and be sure to visit our S.H.I.E.L.D. portal, SHIELDsite.net, for more on the show!