Television today is very different from when people watched it in the 1980s. Shows like Airwolf and Knight Rider ruled the airwaves, and even if someone missed one episode, he or she was still caught up. Fast forward to 2014, and things are a little different. It seems that if viewers miss even a MINUTE of Game of Thrones or Mad Men, they would be 100% lost (taking DVR and on demand out of the equation, of course).
This is because in 2014, channels like HBO and AMC have taken a cinematic approach to their programs. Take The Walking Dead for example. People aren’t watching a 16 episode season. They are watching a 16 hour movie broken up into parts. The term episodic, so prevalent in earlier years, has been moved to the wayside. Episodic means “consisting of LOOSLY connected events.” In programs today, nothing is LOOSLY connected. It seems that everything is linked in some way, shape and form to something else. Cinematography, writing and direction have given television a more movie-like feel in recent years. To be honest, TV is better for it.
With television taking so many cues from the movies, wouldn’t it make sense that the reverse could happen as well? Thanks to Marvel, it has. They have taken their characters (well, at least the ones they are ALLOWED to take) and put them into the biggest “television” project ever created: The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here is a breakdown of how Marvel did it:
Iron Man: This acts as the pilot for the series. Viewers are introduced to arguably the main character of the show, Tony Stark. They see his origin, and also how the villains are portrayed in the show, giving them a sense of the tone that Marvel is trying to set. The end credits tease lets the viewer know that there is a lot more to this show that they suspect, and to stick around for the next episode.
Incredible Hulk: This is the episode after the pilot is “picked up.” We have some new cast members and conflicts. Since the show is now on board for a full season, Marvel can start telling more of the overall story arc, which this movie adds to by the appearance of Tony Stark at the end. So in the first two episodes, viewers are already teased what will occur in the season finale.
Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger: These two episodes are important, as they reveal to the viewer exactly what type of program this is: An anthology series. No, it’s not like America Horror Story, where the same actors play different characters. This anthology series puts the same characters in the same universe, but each episode represents a different theme:
Iron Man: Technology
Captain America: The First Avenger: Politics
This gives the viewer something new with each episode of the series. If someone is a fan of myth, i.e. Thor, you can enjoy a political/war drama with Captain America, so on and so forth.
Avengers: This is the season 1 finale. Marvel took everything the viewer has seen throughout the season and brought it all together into one big payoff. They resolved all the current storylines, as well as the overall story arc, the search for the Tesseract and the forming of The Avengers. Not only was there closure, but in yet another post credits scene, a taste of things to come in season 2, the first appearance of Thanos.
Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier: These are the first three episodes of season 2, with IM3 acting as the season premiere. Just like a television show, viewers see how season 1 has affected all the characters, as well as upping the stakes, as all new seasons should do.
Based on the success of season 1, Marvel decided to add more to the show in season 2:
Marvel’s [Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.](series:722469) This is an ACTUAL television program, but in terms of the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe, the episodes of S.H.I.E.L.D. would be considered “webisodes.” Webisodes were made popular by shows like Heroes and The Office in the mid 2000s. While missing them didn’t take away from the overall show experience, they definitely added to it. The same can be said for S.H.I.E.L.D. You can only watch the movies/episodes and still receive a full experience, but watching S.H.I.E.L.D. will do nothing but ADD TO that experience and make it better.
[Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073): Sometimes TV shows have what’s called a “backdoor pilot.” They use one of their episodes to introduce new characters and situations that could possibly turn into its own program. NCIS is an example of this, spinning off from the show JAG (I know NCIS is on CBS, the “old people channel” but if 15 billion gazillion people watch it, SOME of them may read this, therefore understand the reference). After making 94 million dollars opening weekend, with NO signs of slowing down, Guardians can be considered a successful back-door pilot for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, the sequel was announced before the movie even opened. Guardians also introduced another genre into this anthology series: Outer Space. So now if someone is bored with the political intrigue of Winter Soldier, he or she can blast to another galaxy with Rocket and Groot.
That’s how this “television show” breaks down. Viewers can even track its “Nielsen Ratings” by the box office. People tuned in for some episodes more than others. There were surprises, both on the low AND high end of the spectrum. Looking at all the data, one thing is certain, Marvel has a bona fide TV hit on its hands. You just have to put down the remote and head to the theatre to see it.