ABC Boss Hopes Marvel's 'Agents of SHIELD' and 'Inhumans' Can Coexist

Marvel's The Inhumans - Publicity - H 2016
Jim Cheung/Marvel

In November, ABC announced perhaps the biggest swing for its business with corporate sibling Marvel: that the Disney-owned network is teaming with Imax and the comic book powerhouse for the straight-to-series drama The Inhumans.

The announcement of the series, which will see the first two hours screened exclusively in Imax theaters before the show's debut on ABC, immediately threw the future of the network's veteran drama Agents of SHIELD into question, as the latter series is currently exploring its own Inhumans storyline.

SHIELD has the distinction of being not only ABC's first Marvel drama but the comic book company's first scripted original. While the fourth-season show is helping to improve the network's fortunes in its new Tuesdays at 10 p.m. slot, critics have largely abandoned the series in favor of Netflix's robust slate of Marvel fare, including the well-received Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Daredevil.

While it's unfair to compare Marvel fare from Netflix, which doesn't operate with the same set of creative limitations as a broadcast network — let alone the same budget — is SHIELD still the type of Marvel fare that ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey wants on her network? Is The Inhumans — which will see Imax pay for the first two hours of the expensive drama as well as supply its cameras to the production — more in line with the type of Marvel fare Dungey would like to see going forward, especially with basic cable network FX poised to unspool Marvel's X-Men-themed drama Legion from Fargo boss Noah Hawley? Should SHIELD fans be worried, given the pending September launch of The Inhumans on ABC?

"SHIELD is in its fourth season and every year, that show has gotten creatively stronger and better," Dungey told The Hollywood Reporter during an interview Tuesday at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour. "It was the first out of the gate for us and with Marvel, and we all have been learning a lot over the four years of that show. What we're doing with Imax is very different, and I think it's going to feel and look very different from what they're doing on Netflix. Hopefully there's a world for me where those shows exist side-by-side on our air and are two different pieces of music that exist together in the same landscape."

Dungey's comments are reassuring for the future of Marvel on the network after the executive canceled Marvel's critical favorite but ratings underperformer Agent Carter following its second season.

The Inhumans will likely debut Labor Day weekend in about 1,000 theaters nationwide, with ABC then airing the drama two weeks later.

The deal for The Inhumans, which will be run by Dexter grad Scott Buck, marks the first time a TV series will have its premiere on the big screen. And it gives ABC a way to "event-ize" the project in the crowded fall TV space, where launching a show is a multimillion-dollar investment. "We think this is a quadruple win — a win for Imax, a win for Marvel, a win for ABC Studios and a win for ABC to launch a show in an innovative way and get attention," Disney-ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood told THR in November. The Imax pact is the first of what Sherwood hopes will be several innovative ways to launch programming.

ABC also hopes that The Inhumans — which is not a spinoff of the network's Agents of SHIELD and does not replace the planned feature film — will have a halo effect on the veteran Marvel drama as well. The network hopes fanboys flock to see The Inhumans in theaters and follow the show to the network, bringing in new viewers who may not already be watching SHIELD (provided the latter returns for a fifth season next fall).

The Inhumans, a race of superhumans with diverse and singularly unique powers, were first introduced in Marvel Comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965. Since then, they have become among the most popular characters in the Marvel Universe. Few details are known about the ABC project, including its premise.