'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' not sweating second episode ratings drop
(CBR) Jeffrey Bell has worked on some of the biggest genre TV series over the past 15 years, including "The X-Files," "Angel," "Alias" and " Spartacus: War of the Damned."
His latest challenge is an especially high-profile one: Joining show creators Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen as an executive producer and writer on "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," set in the world of Marvel Studios' massively successful film franchise and entering its third week on air.
With the show's latest episode, "The Asset," debuting 8 p.m. Tuesday, CBR News spoke with Bell about his experience working on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," the ratings drop between the show's first and second week, capturing a movie feel on a TV budget and introducing comic book elements into the live-action series -- starting with Ian Hart's role as Dr. Franklin Hall (beginning this week), the supervillain known in Marvel Comics lore as Graviton.
CBR News: Jeffrey, you've had a long history in TV, and you've worked with Joss Whedon in the past, but this is your first Marvel project -- did it come fairly natural to you to join the creative team on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."?
Jeffrey Bell: I felt like this show would be in my wheelhouse, between the sort of stories we told on "The X-Files," "Angel" and "Alias." You have weird things happening, you've got a spy show, and you've got emotional storytelling. I was excited that they asked me come play.
When did you come on board the show? Pretty early on in the process, right?
Yeah. There wasn't a script. Joss and Jed and Maurissa called me. I knew Joss before then, and I worked with Jed and Maurissa on "Spartacus." As they were getting ready to take it to ABC, I guess my name came up on both sides.
Given that, since it's mostly new characters that comprise the main cast other than Agent Coulson, were you there to help shape the main cast?
Joss, Jed and Maurissa created the show. The one thing that they had before I came on were those characters. They had a clear sense of who all those people were. I came on, and was able to help shape the pilot some, and contribute in that way, but who the people were -- the engine behind who they were and how they would interact -- those guys knew pretty early on, which was cool.
Though this is the first Marvel project you're worked on, how much of a fan of Marvel comics and Marvel movies were you?
I read comics all the time as a kid, and then stopped in college, and started again as an adult. When I was on "Angel," everybody was so deeply into it, that also gave me a chance to catch up -- "What did I miss since 'Watchmen'?" There was a lot of great stuff to discover; I think "The Ultimates" was fantastic, and I like a lot of non-superhero books, too.
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is certainly a multifaceted prospect -- it's based on the existing world of the movies, which is a hugely successful franchise, and also touches on the world of comics, but it still has to be its own thing. What kind of unique experience has that been for you?
I think what made it easy was that Joss brought a really fun, emotional life to the Marvel characters in "The Avengers." If you took a Venn diagram of Marvel over here, and ABC over here, and you overlap them, that overlapping area is what Joss does really well. There are relationships, there's humor, and there's character, and there's also lots of cool and scale, and the stuff the Marvel fans love.
I think he brought both of those together in a great way, and Jed and Maurissa were there to sort of run with that. Me having worked with all of them before, that part felt pretty natural. Joss has the history of working with the "Buffy" and "Angel" kind of storytelling -- they're genre stories, but they're always about character and emotion. We all agree with that as the kind of stories to tell.
As someone who came into this somewhat removed from the Marvel world, how important is walking the line between drawing from existing mythology, while not bogging it down to make it inaccessible to non-hardcore fans? In just two episodes, there's been an element of creating new material, while also having ties to the larger Marvel world and introducing aspects from comic books.
The challenge from the get-go was telling stories that non-Marvel fans will understand and enjoy, while entertaining all the Marvel fans. There are a few ways we're trying to do that. If we can tie something in from the movies, whether it's Chitauri or [last week's Nick Fury] cameo, which was a cool thing; or whether it's fallout from the battle of New York -- specific Marvel movie stuff -- that's fun, and we try and do that in a way that everyone would understand.
Then we also try and mine the Marvel comic universe. If we're looking for a doctor, we might say, "Is there a doctor in the Marvel Universe, who would be fun if the fans hear that character's name? Can we make it that person and bring that quality to it? Is there a weapon or a cool tech thing from that universe that we could use that is cool on its own, but if you're a Marvel fan, you go, 'Oh my god, they did that!'" So we're trying to do it that way.
If you look at all the Marvel movies, there are only a couple of superheroes, and they're science-based. Both Hulk and [Captain America] are science gone awry, and then you've got Thor, who I guess is technically an alien. For us to have powers every week kind of explodes their movie universe in a way we didn't want to do. Finding occasional characters who are superheroes -- and whether that's someone new like Mike Peterson in the pilot, or whether later on there are a couple of places when people hear the name, that will be meaningful to the Marvel fans. But we have to be judicious, otherwise we've got 20-some new superheroes running around at the end of the first season, and suddenly ["Avengers: Age of Ultron"] is a very different movie.
We're in contact with Marvel Studios; we pitch them the stories we're telling, and they'll give us feedback from that. "Here might be a cool thing," or "We'd rather you not do that, because that's the plot of our next movie." It's a relationship, and Marvel's been very cool about that. Going forward, we'd love to keep finding little things to bring to people, but keeping it so everyone can enjoy it.
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