Inside Marvel's Secret 'Agents of SHIELD' Security

"What we are trying to do with this show is just bring back some of the urgency of television," Marvel TV head/EP Jeph Loeb says.
ABC/Justin Lubin
Clark Gregg in "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD"

When Marvel and ABC made the joint decision to screen Agents of SHIELD -- Joss Whedon's TV follow-up to The Avengers -- at Comic-Con, it was a no-brainer. But what came with it was a level of security protection that would make the secret-agent organization featured on the comics-themed series proud.

Inside the San Diego Convention Center's sprawling Ballroom 20 -- one of the annual event's biggest venues -- Marvel security guards weren't on the lookout for people with re-entry passes but instead sported night vision goggles in a bid to protect the intellectual property from excited fanboys looking to share the pilot online. Attendees with open laptops were told to shut them down, and the mere glow of a smart phone drew an almost instantaneous slap on the wrist.

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While this may seem like unnecessary precaution, Marvel insiders say the SHIELD pilot is receiving the same level of protection as everything else the company famous for Iron Man and X-Men does, only this time people are noticing.

Traditionally, TV pilots are mailed after May's upfront presentations to critics, reporters, bloggers and anyone interested in getting a first-hand look at the networks' great hopes for fall in an effort to create early buzz and break free from the crowded landscape. (Thirteen new fall series premiere in September alone.) SHIELD, however, marks a rare exception. ABC and Marvel have held back the pilot with a hope that it creates an urgency that encourages industry folks and fanboys alike to have a shared experience when the show premieres Tuesday, Sept. 24, at 8 p.m. on ABC.

The Comic-Con world premiere, which screened to a screaming crowd in July, was one of a handful of instances in which all the parties involved agreed to do it -- because security had years of experience patrolling the room. Another example comes this weekend when the pilot episode screens at D23, the Disney fan expo in Anaheim, Calif., with a similar security detail.

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If you're picturing the pilot being delivered to D23 in a Brink's security truck with police escort, that's just the idea Marvel wants to create around the show. How the pilot is physically delivered is also being kept close to the vest. In a further move to prevent spoilers, upcoming guest appearances are being confirmed on the talent level but plot details are being kept under wraps. It is all part of Marvel's move to create what they hope is a live viewing experience on a night that ABC is rebuilding. (SHIELD serves as a lead-in to fellow rookies The Goldbergs, Trophy Wife and Lucky 7 on Tuesdays this fall.)

Members and guests at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour were privy to a rare SHIELD screening treatment -- complete with a cell phone warning and guards closely monitoring the Beverly Hilton ballroom for would-be pirates among the press corps. The ballroom TCA screening, however, was a compromise and came after Marvel again opted not to issue the standard DVDs that stack up during the semi-annual press tour.

"You’re going to have to leave a sample of your grandmother's urine at the door before you come in; otherwise, the Marvel guys won't let you watch it," ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee told reporters on the afternoon screening, acknowledging that security asked for his iPhone when he arrived to watch a recent three-minute clip.

That night, at ABC's TCA party, Grey's Anatomy and Scandal showrunner Shonda Rhimes -- a self-professed TV geek herself -- put in a request with Lee to see SHIELD and was told security would likely ask for her smartphone as well if they could arrange a private and guarded viewing.

"I'm not going to answer this question in any way, shape or form. Suffice it to say, that's how deep the security is. I'm not going to say whether I've seen it or not!" Rhimes told THR days after TCA.

SHIELD picks up where Marvel and Whedon's big-screen movie The Avengers left off and features Clark Gregg's Agent Phil Coulson's mysterious return after he was killed off in Whedon's film. How I Met Your Mother's Cobie Smulders reprises her role as Agent Maria Hill in the pilot, a casting that had been rumored for months before its Comic-Con reveal.

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Whedon is on board to co-pen the pilot alongside his brother Jed Whedon and Jed's wife, Maurissa Tancharoen; the trio previously teamed on the three-part web series Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Joss Whedon directed the pilot. SHIELD is executive produced by Joss and Jed Whedon, Tancharoen, Jeffrey Bell and Marvel TV's Jeph Loeb.

Sources say that there have been instances where Marvel and ABC have agreed to skip screenings -- when security can't properly ensure that the episode won't wind up online.

"What we are trying to do with this show is just bring back some of the urgency of television," Loeb said at TCA. "While we absolutely welcome the idea of you downloading it or you DVRing it -- because that's the way the people are watching TV -- but wouldn't it be great if we could get back to a place where, at 8 p.m. on Tuesday nights, everybody got together and decided to watch Marvel's Agents of SHIELD so that that social experience is actually one that's immediate? As opposed to something that is shared and reshared and spoiled and then unrevealed and all of the other things that go along with it."

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