To say Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is highly anticipated is an understatement.
After The Avengers pulled in $1.5 billion globally and other Marvel blockbusters like Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and the Iron Man franchise succeeded at the box office, ABC's collaboration with Marvel appeared to be a sure thing. Add to that that S.H.I.E.L.D. marks the television return of Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator and Avengers director Joss Whedon, who brings with him even bigger expectations for the new series.
On S.H.I.E.L.D., which is an offshoot of The Avengers film franchise, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) assembles a team of agents for a worldwide law-enforcement organization known as the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division, which investigates strange, unknown occurrences around the globe. But will S.H.I.E.L.D. be the hit everyone expects — and hopes — it will be? There are several mitigating factors, including its timeslot, the genre and, of course, its network.
S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Tuesdays-at-8 timeslot is a crowded one. It faces off with a trio of new shows and two solid veterans. Putting aside NBC's aging The Biggest Loser and the CW's probably-female-skewing The Originals, the show's real competition is on Fox and CBS.
Fox's new comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which stars SNL goofball Andy Samberg, is expected to come out of the gate strong, particularly with young men, for its Sept. 17 at 8:30/7:30c premiere. S.H.I.E.L.D. launches a week later; it'll be interesting to see how Brooklyn's Week 2 numbers hold up. Can Samberg siphon off some of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s key male demographic? It doesn't exactly have the best lead-in. At 8/7c, Fox has Seth MacFarlane's controversial Dads, which, after the looky-loos sample the lukewarm premiere, shouldn't be a threat.
But over on CBS, NCIS is another story. The juggernaut series is heading into its 11th season as the No. 1 drama on television in total viewers, snatching up an average of 21.3 million viewers last season — a number that would make any TV exec salivate. But NCIS will also lose its leading lady Cote de Pablo this fall. The network is milking de Pablo's sudden exit for its justified publicity potential and hasn't confirmed exactly how many episodes she'll appear in this season. This should worry ABC, as her final episodes are sure to be among the show's most-watched. However, should fans reject a Ziva-less NCIS, they might seek solace in another procedural. Yes, S.H.I.E.L.D. counts as a procedural; each episode will track the search for superheroes, villains or devices. (Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)
Bottom Line: Brooklyn Nine-Nine might attract some of the same viewers, but not enough to matter. NCIS will always have big numbers, pre-and post-Ziva, but its audience is different than the one ABC is going after.
Genre shows are doing some brisk business these days. Let's go back to 2004, when a little show about plane crash survivors on an island — ABC's Lost — opened the door for genre shows to become more mainstream. It isn't just networks like Syfy airing the sci-fi and supernatural anymore, though we can thank them for Battlestar Galactica. Lost's popularity sent networks scrambling to find similar-themed projects. Some worked, like Fringe on Fox, and others quickly faltered, like NBC's The Event.
When Lost ended, even ABC struggled to find its replacement. Among its unsuccessful attempts: FlashForward, V, The River and Zero Hour. The network's Once Upon a Time, however, has proven that it is possible.
As has The CW. Series like Smallville and Supernatural held on to passionate, though admittedly smaller audiences over several seasons. More recently, Arrow became last year's breakout genre hit. Many have credited its approach (the show's title character is a powerful vigilante, but he does not have what you'd call superpowers) for its accessibility. It grounds its hero in realism and avoids the convoluted world of tights and capes, special powers and mythology, making it approachable for comic book fans and regular Joes alike.
S.H.I.E.L.D. is similar in its approach: Real people without powers track down those who have them.
Bottom Line: With genre becoming more mainstream, S.H.I.E.L.D. stands a chance at attracting more viewers, as long as they're not expecting The Avengers-on-TV.
ABC doesn't have a great track record for male-skewing dramas (RIP, Last Resort), so if S.H.I.E.L.D. succeeds, it could create real momentum in that arena. (The network's most successful current dramas — Scandal, Grey's Anatomy and Revenge — are all female-centric.) But The Avengers didn't become a billion-dollar franchise by just catering to one gender, and this show probably won't either. Whether viewers are tuning in to find out if Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) or Thor (Chris Hemsworth) will pop up or just to gawk at the cast's fresh faces (Brett Dalton and Chloe Bennet among them), ABC will welcome everyone.
Bottom Line: ABC knows what the ladies like, but S.H.I.E.L.D. will probably also attract enough men to be a real cross-demographic hit.
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premieres Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 8/7c on ABC. Will you be watching?