Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb talks future of Defenders, small-screen projects
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s small-screen presence has grown since its nascent Agents of SHIELD days on ABC: Over the past five years, Marvel TV’s library has created more than a dozen shows, with six of them currently housed on Netflix as originals for the streaming giant: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage Iron Fist, The Punisher, and The Defenders.
Meanwhile, Hulu has Runaways, Freeform has Cloak and Dagger, Fox has X-Men-adjacent The Gifted, FX has Legion, and ABC still counts Agents of SHIELD among its titles. With all that going on, and with a new season of Daredevil coming in less than a month, EW checked in with Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb on Marvel’s ever-expanding library.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Erik Oleson, the showrunner for the third season of Daredevil, said that he had “complete freedom” to pursue whatever story he wanted to tell. Was that because this third season didn’t have to set up anything around the mythology of the Hand and everything else that led up to The Defenders?
JEPH LOEB: I appreciate Erik’s point of view, but just so we’re clear, everything we do, Marvel’s very involved with. So when we first sat down with Erik, we had a fairly good idea as to what we wanted to tackle in terms of story, and then Erik had a great deal of freedom with where he was going to take that story.
So what you’re saying is there was a concrete starting point for Erik, and he couldn’t completely ignore what happened at the end of Defenders.
Correct. I understand what he’s saying, that much of what was driven in the first two seasons of Daredevil was all at some point heading towards the confrontation with what went on in the Defenders. But much in the same way the movies had to build to The Avengers, they had to be standalone stories and exist in their own worlds.
This was certainly the first story where we didn’t have to go back and refer elements that would eventually be in The Defenders. They may play out in other ways, in ways that perhaps we have yet to reveal.
They will? Defenders was always billed as a miniseries, and it seems like it’s not coming back for a second season —
No, all we’ve ever said is that there are no plans right now [to do more]. It doesn’t mean that it’s off the table. And it doesn’t mean that it even has to be with the original characters that were in the first Defenders.
What do you mean by that?
There are lots of Avengers, and through that, you should be able to ascertain that there may be lots of Defenders. No one at any time referred to them as “The Defenders” — they didn’t wear a little “D” on their belts, and they didn’t go to a building that had a big “Defenders” [sign] in the air. They were four mismatched heroes who were joined by a lot of the other heroes that are in the stories that we do on Netflix, but that was that particular story.
Just to check in with the solo series, Iron Fist season 2 just came out —
I couldn’t be more pleased by what happened with Iron Fist 2. I think a lot of people felt like it was… [pauses] much improved from season 1, although a lot of people enjoyed season 1.
Any moves for a third season? That ending is practically begging for it.
Speak to our friends at Netflix. Unlike the movie studio, which can announce a Captain Marvel movie will be out in 2019, the television studio will always be beholden to our networks, and so if our networks want another season of Iron Fist, we’re ready to go. We’re just waiting for the answer. The show’s been out of a week.
Right — I was going to ask, is there any reason for Daredevil‘s new season being released so soon after Iron Fist this year?
Again, that would be a Netflix question. We’re just delighted to have the show come out.
Iron Fist went for a shorter-than-typical season, with 10 instead of 13 episodes. Should we expect shorter, or changing, season lengths going forward?
That was really a function of the story that Raven [Metzner, Iron Fist season 2 showrunner] wanted to tell. It worked very well within that particular [story] and people seemed to respond to it, so that was a very good idea.
How so? And what do lengthier seasons do for storytelling?
Being able to tell a story in 10 or 13 hours, we’re not hampered — and hampered is too strong a word — by just being able to tell the story of the hero. We can also tell the story of the antagonist. [On the movies side], they have to tell a whole story in two hours and get you invested in the hero’s story and get you invested in the antagonist’s story. That’s a big challenge. We can spend a whole episode just dealing with this person’s backstory.
Going forward, season lengths will depend on the story itself, the showrunner’s plans, the network, all those elements, then?
All those elements, yep.
Jessica Jones has already announced a third season, but we also learned that showrunner Melissa Rosenberg, who has handled the show since day one, is leaving after season 3 ends. Have you had any conversations on how to move forward after that, or any updates to share?
No, there’s no reason to do that right now. I think everybody should be secure in the fact that Melissa isn’t leaving until this season’s over. She let us know very early on, which I think was very courageous of her, and we just don’t know what the landscape’s going to look like, essentially a year from now. There could be a fantastic piece of talent that’s not available right now that’s available then.
What we do know is — and I’ve spent a lot of time talking to [star] Krysten Ritter [about this] — is that the idea is to have this show just get better. We wish Melissa well, and she’s been awesome for three seasons, but there’s no reason right now to think about anything other than the fact that she’s our showrunner and she’s going to take the boat safely into harbor.
In terms of more recent, non-Netflix news, it was announced this week that Disney’s upcoming streaming service will feature series on Loki and Scarlet Witch, with the film cast on board and overseen by the film side. How is that going to affect Marvel TV overall?
Unfortunately, I’m going to have to give you one of Marvel’s famous answers for this: That’s classified.
And how will the Fox-Disney merger affect Marvel TV? Iron Fist season 2 did have Alice Eve’s Typhoid Mary mention “Baxter,” as in Baxter Building, as in Fantastic Four…
[Laughs] I think we’ll have to go back to that magical answer: That’s classified.
Then, looking at the rest of your slate, could you talk a little bit about how, all of these years in, all of these seasons in, you choose which properties work best for which networks? Last year really expanded the lineup, with Freeform’s Cloak and Dagger and Hulu’s Runaways.
Well, first of all, we never want to make too many shows, and we never want to make a show just for the sake of making a show. We always want to be able to say something about what’s going on, whether it’s in the Marvel universe or it’s in our universe. And, as I’m sure viewers are aware, networks have very different goals, but they all want to reach as many people as they can.
In the case of both Hulu and Freeform, they were very interested in our young heroes, and so it made sense to us to bring them young hero shows. Fortunately, both of them worked out very well, and a lot of that has to do with [showrunners] Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage on Runaways, and Joe Pokaski on Cloak and Dagger. It’s a marriage of the material with the right showrunner and the right network. So far, we’ve done pretty well.
Going back to the Netflix series, what are the biggest challenges to moving forward post-Defenders, especially story-wise?
It always begins in the same place. We find the best showrunners that we can, whether it’s Steve Lightfoot on Punisher or Erik on Daredevil, and we work together with them to craft the best story that we can… Does Marvel have an idea as to what Daredevil 4, 5, or 6 could be? Sure. But ultimately those things will be shifted and talked about by the two other important parties that are involved: the network — Netflix — and our showrunner. So we take it on a season-by-season basis, with a general idea as to where we want to be for all of our characters.
Well if you could have a blank check from those parties to pursue that general idea, what would your long term wish list include for all of these Netflix properties?
There are certainly great things that we could do with the characters that we have, and anywhere you go, people ask us about Daughters of the Dragon. I think that’s as much a compliment to those original characters as it is to Jessica [Henwick] and Simone [Missick]’s portrayals, so that’s a regular thought.
To speculate out past that [in a way] that may reveal a few things that are coming, whenever we introduce a new character, whether it’s Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk or Alice Eve as Typhoid Mary, we always wonder, as it is in the comics, “Is this a character that could sustain their own story?” But right now we do have five series, and that’s an enormous responsibility, to continue to tell great stories with Matt and Jessica and Luke and Danny and Frank.
How often do you get asked about a Daughters of the Dragon series or a Heroes for Hire one?
Daily. It might be hourly if I had a Twitter account that I had to look at. [Laughs]
Marvel’s Daredevil returns Oct. 19 on Netflix. New seasons of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist arrived earlier this year.