Marvel TV Division Folded Into Studio Unit, Layoffs Expected

Head of Marvel TV Jeph Loeb- Getty - H 2019

Marvel Television has a new home.

The TV arm of Marvel Entertainment is being folded into the Marvel Studios group. Current development — Hulu's slate of animated comedies and live-action drama Helstrom — will remain on course. However, no further development will come from the unit overseen by Jeph Loeb. The exec, who launched Marvel into live-action scripted TV originals as head of Marvel Television, will remain on board during the transition. It is unclear when Loeb's last day will be. His departure from Marvel has been expected since late October.

Marvel TV senior vp current programming and production Karim Zreik and members of his team will join the Marvel Studios group. He will continue to oversee current projects in production. Layoffs are expected to come as select roles will be eliminated in the near-term as a result of the reduction in volume. Sources say a couple dozen employees will be let go from the company.

The writing has been on the wall for Marvel Television to be folded into the larger Marvel Studios unit. Kevin Feige, who has overseen the multibillion-dollar Marvel Cinematic Universe, was elevated to serve as the comic book powerhouse's chief creative officer on Oct. 15. With his promotion, Feige now oversees the creative direction of the company's content creation, including publishing, film, TV and animation. As part of the consolidation, Loeb's Marvel TV and the animation-focused Marvel Family Entertainment have also moved under Feige's Marvel Studios banner. That officially knocks down the wall that had existed between Marvel's film and TV units. 

The move does not mean that Marvel Television will cease to exist. To be clear, the news illustrates the newfound control that Feige will have over the division. 

While Feige successfully led Marvel's film unit to its first best picture Oscar nomination (for Black Panther, the first superhero movie to ever earn such recognition) and its record-breaking Avengers: Endgame box office return (topping Avatar as the highest-grossing film of all time), Loeb's TV efforts haven't proved nearly as successful.

Clues that Marvel would consolidate its development under Feige can be seen in the fact that Disney+ — the forthcoming streaming service from Marvel's parent company — turned to the film division to oversee Marvel TV series. Marvel will be a cornerstone of Disney+ — which launched Nov. 12 and will feature spinoffs of MCU titles including Loki (starring Tom Hiddleston), WandaVision (with Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen) and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (led by Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan). Other Marvel TV series set to launch on the streamer include What If, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk and Moon Knight. All of those shows are produced not by Loeb's unit, but by Feige's film division.

In his decade at the helm of Marvel TV, Loeb was responsible for a number of broadcast, basic cable and streaming originals. But many of them had strict rules about integrations with the MCU. ABC's Agents of SHIELD featured occasional yet minor tie-ins with Avengers and will end in 2020 after seven seasons. (The show, starring Clark Gregg and Ming Na, has been a middling ratings performer and was moved to Fridays, where it had reduced viewership expectations.) ABC and Marvel attempted a SHIELD spinoff back in 2015 that did not move forward. ABC's most successful Marvel show — the female-fronted Agent Carter — came and went after two low-rated but critically praised seasons. (Star Hayley Atwell, meanwhile, has continued to appear in Marvel films and will be in What If for Disney+.) Efforts to develop other live-action fare for ABC fizzled, including a rumored show from John Ridley. Sources note that ABC remains committed to having Marvel on the network and, as of August, is prepping another show. (In keeping with Marvel tradition, details are being closely guarded.)

Elsewhere, Loeb was behind the groundbreaking five-show Netflix deal for one larger, connected Marvel world featuring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and the mashup miniseries The Defenders, many of which experienced showrunner changes. While Jessica Jones was able to cut through critically, many of the other efforts came and went after a weekend. (Netflix does not release viewership data.) Marvel's relationship with Netflix officially ended in February when the streamer canceled Jessica Jones as Disney continued to pull back from supplying a competitor with content as it prepped for the debut of its own streaming platform.

Loeb also expanded Marvel's TV footprint to cable with series including Noah Hawley's now-completed Legion and Freeform's younger-skewing Cloak and Dagger, which has since been canceledAnd on the streaming side, while Feige prepped film spinoffs for Disney+, Loeb readied a slate of animated shows for Disney-owned Hulu. That slate — MODOK, Hit-Monkey, Tigra & Dazzler and Howard the Duck, plus the mashup The Offenders — remains in the works, though work on Tigra has been paused as the show undergoes a massive creative overhaul. Hulu also has the live-action drama Helstrom in the works. That series will be Marvel TV's last live-action scripted original after fellow drama Runaways wraps this month with its third and final season.

While Loeb has been able to get shows on the air, few have managed to break through the clutter in the crowded Peak TV landscape numbering 500-plus scripted shows. Loeb, too, also has had his share of missteps. Marvel's highly anticipated take on New Warriors — a half-hour comedy featuring beloved character Squirrel Girl — was picked up straight to series in April 2017 at Disney-owned Freeform and dropped seven months later. In March 2018, FX and creators Donald Glover and Stephen Glover bailed on Marvel's planned Deadpool animated TV series, citing creative differences. (Emmy winner Donald Glover went on to rip Marvel for the decision.) More recently, a live-action Ghost Rider project — which was poised to be part of a second shared Marvel universe at Hulu alongside Helstrom — was scrapped five months after being picked up straight to series.

Loeb's biggest misstep may have been the 2017 take on Inhumans, which on paper was primed to be a success. In a unique partnership, ABC and Marvel teamed with Imax to produce the Anson Mount starrer. The pairing was designed to give the series an early leg up before its ABC debut by having the first two episodes debut in Imax theaters, a bid to expose the show to fans of the MCU. The move failed as the series grossed a tiny $2.6 million theatrically from its global launch in 676 theaters, with $1.5 million of that coming from nearly 400 screens in North America. The Marvel TV effort — which featured a 2,000-pound CGI dog (yes, really) — underwent a series of reshoots, including an estimated $100,000 to fix a VFX wig. The critically panned series was canceled after one season.

In a larger sense, folding Marvel TV into a larger and more successful unit arrives as consolidation across the industry is becoming more rampant as media giants — like Marvel, Disney and Viacom — consolidate executive ranks in a bid to beef up for the streaming future.