Will S.H.I.E.L.D. be the first great superhero TV show?

Joss Whedon's new ABC series is based on The Avengers — but don't expect to see much of Iron Man or the Hulk

Joss Whedon at "The Avengers" premier on April 11
(Image credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

For the past decade, superheroes have dominated the summer box office, with movies like 2012's The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man earning fortunes worldwide. But frustratingly for TV producers, the superhero formula hasn't translated well to television, with shows like NBC's The Cape and ABC's No Ordinary Family falling flat. That's why the entertainment world went all tingly on Tuesday when Joss Whedon, who directed this summer's mega-hit The Avengers, announced plans for an ABC TV series chronicling the adventures of S.H.I.E.L.D., the shadowy government agency at the heart of The Avengers' central narrative. The Avengers is the top-grossing superhero movie of all time, and a series of spin-offs and sequels are already in the works. Can S.H.I.E.L.D. — which realistically won't be on the air until fall 2013 — replicate the film's massive success on the small screen?

S.H.I.E.L.D. could be terrific: "This sounds tremendous," says Andy Greenwald at Grantland. Sure, The Avengers was Whedon's biggest financial success, but the Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator is "still a TV guy at heart." Indeed, the quirky writer's "gift for banter is better suited to a 2-D format." Factor in the reality that TV shows are way cheaper to produce than movies, and this may be the rare spinoff that is both "good business and good fun."

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But it won't focus on superheroes: In what might be a fatal flaw, it's "almost guaranteed" that none of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents from the Marvel superhero films — played by expensive big-name actors like Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johannsson, and Jeremy Renner — will feature prominently in TV's S.H.I.E.L.D., says David Hoffman at Get The Big Picture. And despite Whedon's TV chops, the top-secret organization "isn't really very interesting without the superheroes." Whedon may be following the wrong instincts.

"Joss Whedon goes back to what he knows with S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series"

S.H.I.E.L.D. might not need superheroes to shine: Even without Black Widow and Hawkeye, a show about S.H.I.E.L.D. could helpfully "fill in all the spaces between the big battles with smaller bureaucratic fights," says Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress. Remember, this is "a quasi-governmental body with nuclear weapons" that is "calling shots beyond the scope of the U.S. government." You can bet there's going to be some great drama there — even if Samuel L. Jackson doesn't show up.

"Joss Whedon to make S.H.I.E.L.D. show for ABC"

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