In a surprising move, ABC's Autumn schedule reveals that Marvel's [Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.](tag:722469) is moving to a 10.00pm slot. It's only the latest in a series of surprising moves related to Marvel shows, including the cancellation of Agent Carter and the decision not to commission Marvel's Most Wanted.
So what's going on?
In February this year, ABC President Paul Lee left the business. He'd been a major driver in ABC's approach towards serialised drama; he was particularly known for commissioning shorter series to slot into mid-season breaks. Industry figures jokingly called it "Paul's European Vacation", and Marvel fans will recognise the approach as the one that led to two series of Agent Carter.
The new president, Channing Dungey, seems to be moving things in a different direction. We're seeing mid-season programmes cancelled, and an increasing emphasis on comedy. If rumours of disagreements within ABC are correct, we'll also see dramas begin to shift towards one-and-done episodic formats, rather than ongoing multi-episode narratives, as the one-and-done approach is seen as ideal for repeats.
The change to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is perhaps the most interesting one to date, though. Speaking to the press, Dungey explained that the change was mainly driven by the fact that ABC had a "big bench of comedies", and that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was moved as a result. That said, she added that the new timeslot would allow the series "to go a little bit edgier, go a little darker and take some risks".
What can we expect to change?
ABC's Marvel shows have typically had the same kind of tone and style as the movies, with the aim of being child-friendly. The "darker" and "edgier" shows had been left to Netflix. But the sad truth is that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has never been quite the runaway success ABC had hoped, and that something about the formula simply wasn't working.
When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was first launched, the main focus was on a group of spies struggling to deal with a world of superhumans. As the seasons have gone on, the show has transformed into something very different; partly in reaction to fan comments, we've seen the addition of the Inhumans and a significant number of superhumans ally with S.H.I.E.L.D. Even in the face of such radical changes, though, viewing figures still haven't been great.
It seems that ABC believe adjusting the timeslot - and the tone - of the series won't lose many viewers; they evidently don't believe the show was getting many child viewers in the first place. Instead, the success of Daredevil and Jessica Jones - not to mention the cinematic triumph of Deadpool - appear to have convinced ABC there's potential in darkening the superhero story.
In all honesty, the series has been taken a turn for the darker already. The main villain of Season 3, an Inhuman known as Hive, has been played as a dark and manipulative quasi-demonic creature. It's killings have been brutal and shocking, only a step removed from the kind of scenes you'd see in supernatural horror shows. So there's a very real sense that the timeslot change simply continues an ongoing process.
It's going to be interesting to see how Marvel's relationship with ABC continues to develop. Although both are part of the broader Disney group, each company has a level of autonomy that means nothing will automatically get green-lit. So there may yet be more implications for the wide range of shows Marvel Entertainment have pitched. Meanwhile, only time will tell whether or not the popular petition to take Agent Carter over to Netflix pays off!