ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." - Season Three

Joss Whedon’s S.H.I.E.L.D. may only be a pilot at this stage, but ABC entertainment president Paul Lee sounds confident he’ll give the heavily buzzed-about project a series order.

Critics pelted Paul Lee with questions about the network’s upcoming Avengers-related project at the network’s press tour day in Pasadena, and the executive gave up a few tidbits. Lee described the Whedon series as “not exactly about The Avengers but is attached to it” and promised “I can tell you it’s a great story.”

“It’s just very Joss,” Lee said. “You know how Joss is so high-low? And he’s able to be intense and epic and suddenly funny and silly? He’s just got that ability to be super entertaining and sort of super educated.”

Lee said he’s “hopeful” the show will receive order and that Whedon is “very engaged” in the creative process of the series despite big-screen commitments. The executive also dropped that Whedon is working on scripts beyond the pilot. “For us to have Joss Whedon not only [attached to] the show but passionate about the show, directing and writing pilot … he’s already working on the scripts,” Lee said. “We shot it in LA to make sure he’s free to work on it across his TV and feature life.” An ABC source says the network had Whedon work on additional scripts on the expectation that the in-demand writer-director might become unavailable later this year due to other projects after the show is presumably greenlit.

Asked if S.H.I.E.L.D. will be the network’s most expensive pilot yet, Lee said, “I don’t know that it will be. We’ll certainly be investing in it. It’s a big franchise for us.”

And where on the schedule might S.H.I.E.L.D. go? Sundays with fairy tale hit Once Upon a Time, perhaps? “There’s no question S.H.I.E.L.D. could go anywhere. It could absolutely go on Sunday.”

All of which sounds optimistic. More practically, it’s just unlikely that ABC would invest so heavily in this big of a Marvel project with Whedon and not pull the trigger (unless, of course, the pilot just turned out dreadful). After all, even if the show flops, it would be tough to criticize any executive for taking a chance on it. One critic pointed out that superheros have flourished on the big screen but TV versions often stumble. Lee replied, “They said the same thing about fairy tales. We couldn’t pick a better group of people or a better set of brands to do [a super hero show] with.”

More from the panel:

— Lee echoed the comments of Fox Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly by saying “we welcome the conversation” to “get a sense what the culture is feeling” in regards to violence on TV. “We have stringent standards, even more so than our competitors. We are tremendously sensitive to this and we think and talk about it all the time. We want vibrant and passionate storytelling … nothing gratuitous. There has to be a moral compass in what we do.”

— Good news (you few) Last Resort fans: The freshman drama that got cancelled will have an actual series finale on Jan. 24. The executive promised a great conclusion to the show.

— Seth MacFarlane may have told jokes Thursday morning that suggest he may not take the Oscars too seriously (like the quip about directors being superfluous .. and let’s not forget the line about Hitler), but ABC’s entertainment chief insisted that the Family Guy creator “wants to be there” and is “coming with a great sense of respect” for the annual awards. “I think he brings a really contemporary feel,” Paul Lee told critics Thursday in Pasadena, CA. “He’ll have a lot of fun. I may be proven wrong, but I’m really bullish about it.”

— Jay Leno and David Letterman took a little wind out of Jimmy Kimmel’s sails on Wednesday night by building on their audiences versus Tuesday, when Kimmel bowed in his 11:30 p.m. timeslot. (Kimmel went down from 3.09 million to 2.85 million). “It’s a long game, but we think he started well.”

— Lee expressed disappointment in the performance of the all-stars edition of Dancing with the Stars. “People like to see bad as much as good dancing!” He did, however, say the franchise remained a proven hit for ABC so it will remain a network staple for a while.

Episode Recaps

ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." - Season Three
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) assembles a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to handle strange new cases.

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