At the start of 2011, The BBC was THE place to go for quality drama and was riding high. Doctor Who had reached its fifth year since revival and the transition from David Tennant to Matt Smith had gone exceedingly well, with fans taking to both Smith and Karen Gillan immediately.
They also launched Sherlock with a blaze of publicity and acclaim, both from viewers and the critics. Both shows were under the watch of Steven Moffatt, and he became in many ways the Kevin Feige of UK TV. Moffatt was not only able to launch Sherlock, but keep Dr. Who vital, popular and between both shows capture a massive number of viewers for the public broadcaster, translating into overseas sales and big revenues.
The landscape began to change at a similar time, with Game of Thrones being released and the rise of other shows; but for several years Moffatt enjoyed a kind of dominance. His shows could attract top guest stars, loyal fans and most importantly, keep their stars engaged and interested.
A Nice Problem to Have
The first signs of this changing were when Freeman was cast as Bilbo Baggins, delaying the 3rd season of Sherlock. It was an inconvenience for sure, but on paper at least, the show has stayed fresh and highly anticipated. Then Benedict Cumberbatch was also cast, but "it's only a CGI/Voice role" and Martin is away anyhow, so there were no major issues. The BBC liked that two of their top guys were getting noticed and the kudos and extra eyeballs that brought to the show.
Then things began to change for the BBC very rapidly on all fronts.
An Inconvenient & Uncomfortable Truth
First off, scandal beset the Beeb and it was a salacious scandal at that. The headlines were dominated by seedy allegations and criminal investigations, and most importantly, the public funding it currently enjoys was severely put at risk and may even be removed next year as a result of the damage caused to public and governmental confidence.
As this happened, several key players began to take other work elsewhere, most notably Karen Gillan who left Dr. Who, taking a role in the uber successful Guardians of the Galaxy.
Marvel was very quick to sign her when she became available and while Nebula was not a lead role, she had clearly been "spotted" as Amy Pond. She was ironically replaced by Jenna Louise Coleman on Dr. Who, who had just appeared in a minor role in Captain America: The First Avenger.
With Smith's leaving, Moffat had to retool Who, all while the 3rd season of Sherlock was being finalized and aired. Cumberbatch was now the one taking the major roles in Hollywood, this time as the villain in Star Trek: Into Darkness and raising his profile in The Imitation Game.
It was only a matter of time until someone like Marvel came calling for Cumberbatch, and despite flirtations with Joaquin Phoenix and Matthew McConaughey for the Dr. Strange role, once Sherlock was announced in the role it was almost certain Freeman would follow, just as with the Hobbit franchise.
The mystery at this time is WHO Martin Freeman is playing exactly, but all signs point to Norman Osborn, with the introduction of Spider-Man into the MCU. Osborn is somewhat of an essential character and in Freeman, they have almost the perfect actor to portray the Thunderbolts/Civil War version of that character.
Where does that leave Moffatt & The BBC? In BIG trouble!
The BBC had 4 major franchises that go around the world: Strictly Come Dancing (or Dancing With The Stars in the US), Who, Sherlock...and Top Gear - the last of which has had to hire an entire new team following yet more scandal. Steven Moffat runs two of those franchises for the BBC and increasingly they are coming into conflict.
With Cumberbatch and Freeman's new Marvel schedules, filming the contracted series of Sherlock will become an increasingly difficult task, it's already 2 YEARS between seasons, and as a result, there is a risk the fans will turn away.
As a result of this conflict of schedules, Who won't get a full season next year. Already the cracks are showing, with Moffat now so ingrained in each show, that it would be unspeakable for him to have to choose one over the other.
Why is Marvel such a threat? Because they could easily come in and take more actors and possibly even Moffat himself away from the BBC!
With their TV endeavors increasing via Netflix, and Agent Carter, Marvel will be looking for proven show-runners.
Moffatt has that track record of success, four major actors from his shows already are in the MCU (including David Tennant), and it's entirely possible they are putting in a strong word about Moffat.
I could very easily see Moffat being offered a Marvel show of his own for either a lesser known property or a team up show in the future.
One of Moffat's biggest successes was Torchwood, the Who spin-off about a team of time agents. It would not be a stretch to imagine him at the helm of a UK based show based on Excalibur, A Dr. Strange-led Defenders or even the rumored Thunderbolts series with Freeman as 'Stormin' Norman.
Doctor Who could withstand Moffat leaving, but has never been able to withstand the whims of the board of the Beeb (BBC).
Money is a real issue for the BBC at present as Marvel can pay more to their actors while public funding and scrutiny of BBC salaries is a political issue for them. Are they really going to retool the show again? Or mothball it till Moffat is free?
They took Who off air for over 15 years because of cost. It's not impossible they could do so again.
It's Not Just About the Money
They also may not be able to pay what Freeman and Cumberbatch want as A-list movie stars. Jenna Louise Coleman came within inches of leaving Who this year -what if Marvel came calling for her again? Her earlier character being someone's mom, for example? (after all Howard Stark was there!) or an MCU version of Black Cat or even a back-up choice for Clea in Dr. Strange?
The BBC would have a very tough time stopping actors pursuing big roles financially, or morally. After all, it's no longer in a broadcaster or studio's interests to hold talent prisoner, look at Idris Elba's situation with Marvel for proof.
Could Who withstand another major change of personnel onscreen, even if Maisie Williams seems to be the lined up replacement?
Moffat has never seemed the kind of guy to stick around to the bitter end. If there's a chance of either show dying, either a slow death due to filming schedules or a pulled plug by the board, he'd tap out before that.
It's a VERY real danger and Marvel could play a big part in deciding the fate of both Who AND Sherlock and thus the future of the BBC. Without either show, they would have a lot of trouble replacing that revenue!