One of the most highly anticipated shows of the upcoming fall TV season is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Clark Gregg reprises his role as Agent Phil Coulson from Marvel’s feature films, as he assembles a small, highly select group of Agents, who together will investigate the new, the strange and the unknown, across the globe, in order to protect the ordinary from the extraordinary. The show also stars Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge and Chloe Bennet.
While at Comic-Con to debut the show’s pilot for fans, executive producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, who co-write the pilot, talked about the biggest challenges in adapting the Marvel universe on a TV budget, finding a nice balance between stand-alone episodes and mythology, the rules and guidelines that Marvel has set, making the show accessible for people who aren’t familiar with the Marvel universe, connecting the Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) character to Iron Man 3, whether any costumed characters will ever show up, and just how far ahead they’ve plotted their story arc. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Question: Ever since this project was announced, the show has had a ton of attention on social media. How much was that a part of the plan?
MAURISSA TANCHAROEN: We’re having fun, for sure. There’s a lot of pressure because it is such a big project, and it exists in a universe that has been so well-established and loved and adored, and has such a history.
WHEDON: We’re doing our best to make everybody happy, including ourselves.
What are the biggest challenges in adapting the Marvel universe on a TV budget?
TANCHAROEN: It’s a challenge, but what we are doing is just looking at it through a different lens. We are telling more stories within that extraordinary universe. Coulson is the human face in all the movies you’ve seen. So, now he has a team of real people who don’t have superpowers, but they’re skilled in their own way and they’re dealing with this extraordinary world.
WHEDON: The movies each follow someone who has some crazy power. 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 because 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. What is it like to be a real person with no superpowers, in a world where people do have those powers? We think those are compelling stories to tell.
TANCHAROEN: It’s a nice balance between, much like what Joss [Whedon] did with Buffy or Angel, or any of his shows. Each episode will be stand-alone, but there will be mythology woven throughout.
Have you been doing a crash course on the Marvel universe?
WHEDON: Yes, we’ve definitely been doing a crash course.
TANCHAROEN: We have lots of homework, all the time. Also, the Marvel universe is so vast that we think we’re coming up with some new character and we’re like, “Can somebody do that?,” and the answer is, “Yes.”
WHEDON: There’s already a guy who does that.
Did Marvel set any specific rules or guidelines for characters or plotlines that you couldn’t touch?
TANCHAROEN: Yes! It’s Marvel, so there are many rules.
WHEDON: There are all sorts of rules in place. There are 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. It’s more about where the out of bounds is, so we can move the ball down the field.
How do you find a balance so that people who are not familiar with the Marvel universe can still enjoy this show?
WHEDON: Sometimes I feel like, for someone who doesn’t know something, there’s a way that you can say it where it sounds like it’s part of the world. It fleshes out the world so that it is relatable, and to someone who does know what it is, it’s really exciting.
TANCHAROEN: You don’t have to be a Marvel fan to watch the show and relate to it and enjoy it. At least, that’s our goal. It’s a Joss Whedon show. What he does is that 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. We’re hoping that people will relate to it.
WHEDON: Our approach is always just to try to make something that we enjoy, personally. We think that, if we enjoy it, then other people will enjoy it, regardless of whether they’re fans or not.
TANCHAROEN: We also have the challenge of the Marvel audience being a very male audience and the ABC audience being a very female audience. We’re hoping to find a middle ground with the humor of it. There will always be humor.
At what point did you decide to tie the Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) character into Iron Man 3?
TANCHAROEN: Well, our goal is to weave throughout what already exists in the movies and what we establish on the show. We hope to compliment what happens and supplement what happens, and vice versa.
WHEDON: We want to make it more rewarding, if you watch both, then if you just watch one. We can deal with fall-out, after a feature, or tease some things up. But, there are a lot of parties involved. It’s a huge machine that we’re in, so it’s a process, but a rewarding one, and it’s very fun, for sure.
Will there ever be any costumed characters showing up on the set?
TANCHAROEN: Sure, yes. It’s not off-limits. It’s not just a spy show. We’re hoping to do a little bit of everything.
With this being a spy-based series, what were some of your influences for that aspect of the show?
WHEDON: We talk about Alias a lot, in terms of the spy aspect. Jeff Bell worked on Alias, so it’s easy to talk about. One of the things that we’re trying to do, when we tell that story, or when we tell any story, is to find that Marvel hook for it. “What makes it different and what makes it Marvel?,” is something we say a lot, in the room. That’s our biggest responsibility. The Marvel brand is fun, action, emotion and humor.
With the characters on the show, Skye (Chloe Bennet) seems like the everywoman who is on the outside. Are you going to be introducing this big world and all of these ideas through her, or are there different approaches you’ll be using to achieve that?
WHEDON: Audiences can pick stuff up, pretty fast. If you show the world operating well, then the audience will pick up, pretty quickly, how it works.
TANCHAROEN: Initially, we are using Skye as the audience’s perspective into this new world.
WHEDON: It’s not bad, when you have a crazy world, to have a character that they need to explain what it means to. She’s like, “What is that?,” and it’s like, “Well, I will tell you now, and look into the lens.”
How far ahead have you plotted your story arc?
WHEDON: We’ve got some ideas, down the road. We have a season mapped out, and a second season concept.
TANCHAROEN: We just started shooting Episode 2, two days ago, and got taken away from it to come here.
WHEDON: We have a lot of cool things planned. We’re pretty excited about where it’s going.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premieres on ABC on September 24th.