Press Tour: ‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ live-blog

A few hours ago, ABC screened the pilot for “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” for critics for the first time. (At least, for those critics who weren’t in Ballroom 20 at Comic-Con a couple of weeks ago.) I’ll obviously have much more to say about the show when it premieres on September 24 at 8 p.m., but I can say that it has the snappy Joss Whedon dialogue (with an assist from showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoe), Clark Gregg is fun, and it feels very much like a hybrid of Marvel Comics and “NCIS” (which will be its direct timeslot competitor). Maybe not a great pilot, but “Firefly” is the only Whedon show with a great pilot (not that FOX thought so, as they aired it last), and a lot of promising elements being put in place. 

Whedon, Whedon, Tancharoen and the show’s cast will be here at the Television Critics Association press tour in a few minutes, and I’ll be live-blogging the panel. Two things to keep in mind: 1)I’ll be typing quickly, so there may not be the right number of periods, if any, in the show’s title or references to the spy organization; and 2)I will do my best to not give away any notable surprises from the pilot, but in the process, there may be some gaps in the live-blog, as I imagine there will be questions asked about things we just saw.

5:16 p.m.: This is a huge panel, also including producers Jeph Loeb and Jeffrey Bell. I would wager Joss will give at least 70 percent of the answers.

5:18 p.m.: Even though we just saw the pilot a couple of hours ago, we’re getting a lengthy sizzle reel of that pilot before the Q&A begins.

5:19 p.m.: Will there be any synergy between the show and the releases of the “Thor” and “Captain America” films? Joss says “we’re still working it out.” He says, “It’s a fun opportunity, but it’s not the reason for the show. We don’t just want to be an Easter Egg farm… This show has to work for those people who haven’t seen those movies and won’t be seeing them.”

5:20 p.m.: Loeb ducks a question about how Gregg’s Agent Coulson survived the events of “The Avengers,” but Whedon says it’ll be dealt with over the first season.

5:21 p.m.: Bell says the pilot wasn’t as expensive as it looks, because the production team knows how to work within a budget. “We have a responsibility, to Marvel, to look awesome and terrific,” but the focus will be on making people invest in the characters.

5:22 p.m.: Can they tell us anything about the character David Conrad will be playing or when he’ll show up? Nope.

5:23 p.m.: Is Joss getting a lot of creative freedom? “We’ve gotten trust, which is different from freedom.” His collaboration with Marvel on the movie was terrific. Both ABC and Marvel have both been very active in making sure the show is what they want, “but at the same time, very supportive of the vision we laid out to them.” Everyone is trying to make the same show, “which has occasionally not happened to me in the past.” How involved will he be going forward? “As much as an executive producer can while he’s also making a movie.” He trusts the other producers to handle things when he’s not there.

5:25 p.m.: “As someone who has been working for S.H.I.E.L.D. for some time now,” Gregg jokes, while answering a question about Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker being allowed to speak in their native British accents. Notes that SHIELD isn’t just an American agency.

5:26 p.m.: What tweaks have to be made to the film franchise for ABC? Joss says ABC wanted everyone’s investment in the characters “to be as big as the case of the week… Which, to me, is how I’ve done all of my shows.

5:27 p.m.: “I like people who are sort of on the fringe of things,” says Joss, discussing why it’s fun to deal with non-superheroes in a superhero universe. The agents don’t have every resource and every answer. “That’s what really makes a group bond, and the sort of thing I like to write.”

5:29 p.m.: Did Gregg know he would live beyond the movie? Coulson was impaled by Loki on his next-to-last day of filming, found it emotional to give up the character “and the long-time job,” and joked about asking for rewrites. “And it was really clear that I was dead, you know. I’d had a great run, and I thought what Joss did with the character was such a magnificent resolve of it… And somebody sent me a tweet that they heard Coulson’s funeral was going to be in ‘Thor 2,’ and I was messed up again.” He feared an Asgardian funeral pyre, and then four or five months after shooting wrapped, Joss called him up to discuss bringing Coulson back for the series. Gregg knows more than we do about how and why Coulson is back.

5:31 p.m.: Jed discussing the different fighting styles for Ming-Na Wen and Brett Dalton’s characters. “Ming-Na is a ninja,” he says. A reporter notes it’s been a while since she’s played a kick-ass character, and Dalton encourages her to show off her muscles. “I am so proud to show off these guns!” she says, giggling as she flexes. “It’s wonderful to be put to task and having to raise the bar and work out and do the training to really be able to carry this character off. And I think I’m going to be in the best shape of my life.” She hates working out, but loves kicking ass.

5:33 p.m.: A reporter asks Loeb and Bell about tying this show to the movies in a way the DC Comics TV shows haven’t been. Loeb says it’s important to understand that “Marvel is one universe,” no matter the medium. “We’ll try to follow the continuity as best as we can. There’s always going to be some bump in the night that our fanbase will let us know about immediately,” but that’s the nature of making a show like this. He adds that there was never going to be a SHIELD show without Gregg. His first conversation with Joss was about bringing Coulson back.

5:34 p.m.: The two British characters talk over each other in their technobabble scenes. Jed admits that it’s a way to get the science out quickly. Tancharoen says it mirrors her own working relationship with Jed (who is her husband).

5:35 p.m.: Chloe Bennet plays a computer hacker “who’s actually better with people than with computers,” as opposed to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

5:37 p.m.: Is the bar set too high for this show? Jed says they try to keep things the way it always is, compares the creative process here to the one on “Dr. Horrible,” where they didn’t worry at all about how many people would watch. Gregg doesn’t worry about any pressure on the show; “I feel we have a cool idea.” He worried the second episode would be the cast stuck in an elevator to save money after the pilot, but it’s even bigger in scope. He loves the idea of “a world post-‘Avengers,'” and seeing people deal with a world with aliens and superheroes and gods.

5:38 p.m.: Whedon alum J. August Richards guest stars in the pilot; will he come back? Joss can’t confirm or deny, “But I thought he was great, too, so do that math.”

5:39 p.m.: Discussing references that geeks will or won’t get, Bell says there are over 5000 characters in the Marvel Universe, and they will use one of those characters’ names for the appropriate guest character even if it’s a reference only the fanboys and girls get. Loeb says “Avengers” “isn’t a movie for one particular group of people; that’s a movie for everybody.” Their hope is that everyone watching TV Tuesdays at 8 will be watching their show.

5:42 p.m.: How has Coulson evolved over the years? “He’s a magnificent chain letter, that began in ‘Iron Man’ with a couple of scenes that my neighbor Jon Favreau asked me to do,” Gregg recalls, and the minute he and Robert Downey Jr. began snarking together they gave him more scenes, and began adding him to the other movies. “He became like the guy at Lollapalooza who’s in the green room managing all these diva rock stars.” And then Joss picked up the idea that Coulson is “the nerd avatar in this world” who grew up believing in the same stuff the fans do. Jed says it’s a testament to Gregg that they kept building the role up. Gregg is thrilled to have Coulson’s role expanded for this show.

5:44 p.m.: How long will it be before we get another Joss TV show that’s his own creation? “The goal is never about the medium; it’s always about the next story… Sometimes, I don’t even know what medium is best for the story.” He likes not knowing what’s next. He doesn’t have a particular ambition in any medium. “If somebody pays me, also good.”

5:45 p.m.: Jed says there will be “an overarching mythology” even as they deal with different cases. Joss says there won’t be a new superhero every week. “There are so many aspects to what’s happened since everybody in the world found out there’s a superhero team… We want to be able to change it up every week, to deal with every aspect: the spy stuff, the hero stuff, the heartfelt stuff.” Wants fans to get something different every week.

5:47 p.m.: This pilot has been kept under wraps far more than normal. Dalton likes keeping secrets. “Marvel security made sure those secrets stayed on set like you wouldn’t believe.” Bennet says it’s a good thing the cast likes each other, because they can’t share anything with anyone. Loeb says from Marvel’s point of view, “We live in a 24/7 news cycle.” Their first day, they were shooting on a military base, which added a much larger layer of security, and yet there was almost instantly a photo of a vehicle on a freeway being driven to the military base. He wants the show to “bring back the urgency of television.” He wants there to be a social experience, rather than having every element of every episode given away in advance. Ming-Na Wen hates spoilers, and she thinks a lot of people appreciate being surprised.

5:49 p.m.: Is it important that the team not be superpowered? Joss says that was the whole idea that appealed to him: “the people who didn’t get the hammer… the idea that everybody matters.” These are the people who get shunted aside in the movie now get to take the spotlight. Coulson was an audience proxy in the movies, “And the TV show is very much about that sense: ‘What about the rest of us? How do we cope with this?'” The team is all incredibly good at what they do “and ridiculously attractive,” but they’re not super.

5:50 p.m.: Jed and Joss are a decade apart; what was their working relationship like when they started? “We started working together when I was a kid and he was a bigger kid,” recalls Jed, who starred in Joss’ home movies. The first real thing they did with him professionally was “Dr. Horrible,” “which was the same thing: just us laughing at each other’s jokes.” When the relationship is at its best, “it feels exactly the same as it used to.”

5:51 p.m.: S.H.I.E.L.D. is international. There’s a pilot scene in Paris, and the hope is to take the team all over the world, sometimes using “movie magic,” according to Bell, sometimes in the actual locations.

5:52 p.m.: Gregg calls it spectacular that the “annoying bureaucrat” from “Iron Man” now has his own show. He wasn’t told much about the show before signing on.

5:53 p.m.: Will “S.H.I.E.L.D.” feature format-breaking episodes like “Buffy” did? Joss isn’t out to do stunts. “It’s always gotta come from the show. ‘Buffy’ lent itself to a musical because it was so hyperbolically emotional… none of my other shows really have. But there is an element of absurdity to the Marvel universe” that they can tap into to “keep the show from feeling too self-important… We’re not just looking for a cool angle. It’s always going to be built from the characters and their stories.” Gregg pushing for a musical episode, but Joss rules it out. Gregg: “We worked on three songs already!”

5:54 p.m.: Audible gasps in the room as we’re told Gregg has info to share with us. He produces a card from his jacket. There’s an official poster of S.H.I.E.L.D. He’ll be releasing the first part of the poster on his twitter handle as soon as he walks off the stage. “If we get 3000 retweets,” Ming-Na will release the next piece, and put the poster together in puzzle form.

And that’s all, folks!