Last season, ABC’s two Marvel series Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter delivered tepid to downright poor ratings (with the former series in its second season and the latter in its first), and it appeared that they were headed toward cancellation. But the network announced that both would be coming back which I believe was largely influenced by their ties to the multi-billion dollar Avengers movie franchise (Disney owns both Marvel and ABC and pretty soon they will own you and me as well). This season, both shows’ ratings have slipped further and as we start to look ahead to the May upfronts when the networks will announce their schedules for the 2016-17 season, I have to wonder if either or both of those shows might not make it that far. For Agents of SHIELD, the argument (championed by sites like TVGrimReaper.com) is that it is guaranteed a fourth season because of the economics of the syndication market. The thinking is that since it will be at 66 episodes by the end of the current season, it is only a short jaunt (one full season) away from the 88 ep threshold that the syndication market prefers. And since shows really start to make money once they are in syndication (and Agents of SHIELD is likely running on a deficit due to its high production costs), it makes sense for the network to suck up another low-rated season in order to see a bigger return on investment in the long run. Now I’m not one to quibble with the TV Grim Reaper and typically I agree with the third season show guarantee, but I believe there might be extenuating circumstances in this case that I will go into shortly. As for Agent Carter, that show is in its second season and only has eight episodes per season so it is no where near the syndication stretch. And it is currently pulling under a 1.0 rating based on the overnights for the 18-49 demographic which is well below acceptable levels for a show on the Big Four broadcast networks. That show could very well be on its last legs (for ABC at least, more on that below).
When both of these shows received their renewal notices last year, I theorized then that ABC may be playing its third season guarantee card early. My thinking was that if the ratings did not improve this year the network would package both shows together as one syndication package (Agent Carter is essentially SHIELD: The Early Years). Agents of SHIELD would have 66 episodes and Agent Carter would have 16 which would bring it to a total of 82, a little shy of the expected threshold but not too far off. However, I thought they would tie the storylines of the two shows together so that they would sync up through their syndication run. I don’t see any indication of that thus far this year, so it makes packaging these two not quite as attractive (though still doable). But at this point, I believe that if they still plan on going that route then Agents of SHIELD would come back for a final, shortened season that would tie the two shows together and get the syndication run to over 90 episodes.
There are also the two new of Marvel shows ABC is working on that factors into the mix. AoS spin-off series Marvel’s Most Wanted has been on the table since last year and ABC officially ordered a pilot for the show last month. That follows the characters Bobbie Morse, aka Mockingbird, and Lance Hunter and could be a leaner, meaner (less expensive) Avengers tie-in on the schedule. The network is also looking at doing the comedy Damage Control–about a team that cleans up the messes left by the Marvel superheros–though it has not received a pilot order yet. But it seems almost certain that ABC has no interest in having four Marvel shows on its schedule at the same time, especially considering that the two it has now are ratings slackers (The CW has four DC shows on its schedule, but three of those are hits). Three would be a stretch for ABC as well even considering that the network might stagger them across the schedule similar to the time-sharing that Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter are currently doing.
Here’s what I currently see as the most likely scenario going next season: Agents of SHIELD passes the baton to Marvel’s Most Wanted, Agent Carter is done (on ABC), and Damage Control–if the network decides to go forward with it–gets the time-share slot. AoS gets a shortened fourth season that would both tie it in with Agent Carter and also the new Marvel’s Most Wanted. The two veteran series then go off to syndication and if MMW doesn’t fly it could eventually get tacked on to that same package. Damage Control is a wildcard, but since the network is taking the sitcom approach with that one it will definitely be a cheaper entry on the schedule. It’s still possible that Agents of SHIELD does not go beyond its third season and they don’t worry too much about tying the Agent Carter storyline in for syndication. But at this point I’m thinking AoS gets to stick around for at least another half season’s worth of episodes (though I don’t believe it is guaranteed).
And there may be some life yet for Agent Carter because Netflix has indicated that they want to expand the number of Marvel shows they are offering. Peggy Carter’s show has received high marks from fans and critics and would make a nice addition to the Defenders entries the streaming service already has as part of its originals. The only thing is that if Netflix picked up the show then that might mess up the Agents of SHIELD / Agent Carter syndication bundle I mentioned above. The streaming service will want to keep exclusive rights to anything it is producing for at least a few years and will likely want to add the first two seasons to its offerings as well. So there may be some wrangling there, but if Agent Carter does not return to ABC, I wouldn’t be surprised if Netflix at least showed an interest in picking it up.
It will be a few months before all of this plays out because I don’t expect any announcements until right before the upfronts in May. But I believe that Agents of SHIELD might hang on a bit longer, though its days are definitely numbered. And Agent Carter (which slipped down to a 0.8 rating with its latest episode) seems certainly to be on its way out at ABC (other than maybe some cross-over eps with AoS to tie the storylines together).
Keep a close eye on this site and the Cancelled Sci Fi Twitter Site for news on this and the other sci fi / fantasy shows, because as the upfronts get started (the cable networks present their schedules in the weeks ahead of the broadcast nets) there will be plenty of announcements hitting the wire.