This hasn't been the most successful of TV seasons for ABC president Paul Lee, who opened up his press tour executive session by lamenting the lack of new hits on his network (and most of the others). So it wasn't surprising that he perked up most whenever asked about a show that isn't even airing on his network yet — and hasn't technically been ordered to series — in Joss Whedon's "Avengers" spin-off "S.H.I.E.L.D."

Whedon will direct and is co-writing the "S.H.I.E.L.D." pilot with his brother Jed and sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen, and will direct it as well. It spins off of the Marvel Comics spy agency, led by Nick Fury, and represented in the series by Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. (Lee declined to explain how Coulson would be in the show, given the events of "Avengers," save to say that "it's a great story.") Though series pick-up orders won't likely be made until the May upfronts, it's hard to imagine "S.H.I.E.L.D." not going to series, particularly after listening to Lee enthuse about the show during and after his press tour session.

"We fast-tracked it, we're going to see it a lot earlier than other (pilots)," Lee said. "We're very hopeful that it's going to go to series."

Because Disney now owns both ABC and Marvel, it was much easier to set up the project and to include Whedon (who's also working on the "Avengers" sequel) as a key part of it.

"We shot it in Los Angeles, to make sure (Whedon) is free to work across his feature life and television life," said Lee. "But I love to see Joss, who's made many great television series in his day, enjoying television as much as movies. That's flattering for us. We love that."

He described the tone of the script as "just very Joss. You know how Joss is so very high/low? And he's able to be intense and epic and suddenly fun and silly? He's just got that ability to be super entertaining and then sort of super educated." (Lee said that he and Whedon both attended the same boarding school in England, Winchester College.)



In response to a question of whether "S.H.I.E.L.D." might be the unlikely successor to the old "Desperate Housewives" Sunday night tradition, Lee said, "We're a long way from where we would schedule it, but there's no question 'S.H.I.E.L.D.' could go anywhere. It could go at 8, it could absolutely go on Sunday, it could also go at 9 or 10."

I noted that superhero shows have, for the most part, had much wider appeal on the big screen than the small, and asked what steps ABC was taking to position "S.H.I.E.L.D." as a show that can work on a big broadcast network like ABC, as opposed to the smaller networks where Whedon had his longest-running successes.

"You may be right, (but) I think you would have said the exact same thing about fairy tales," he said, alluding to the success of "Once Upon a Time." "It's our job to create a television series that delivers every week, to fit on ABC, and to market it well. We've done that with fairy tales. Let's see if we can do it with super heroes. You couldn't pick a better group of people, and a better set of brands, to do it with. I know we're going to have fun at Comic-Con. We have to be smart about how we launch it, too."