As Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige builds out his own TV universe spawned from the “Avengers” films, Marvel’s dedicated television unit is seeing its live-action world contract.
Feige’s division — part of the Walt Disney Studios feature-film operation — is currently working on multiple shows for the nascent streamer Disney Plus centered on Marvel Cinematic Universe characters like Falcon and Winter Soldier, as well as Loki, and Vision and Scarlet Witch, with shows based on She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and Moon Knight also in the works. Meanwhile, with Hulu having this week killed a planned series based on the character Ghost Rider, Marvel Television — the division of Marvel Entertainment responsible for the comic-book publisher’s initial push into live-action TV under Disney ownership — now has few announced live-action projects on the air or in the works.
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According to multiple industry sources who spoke with Variety, the perception throughout the entertainment business is that live-action productions will be mostly if not completely moved away from Marvel Television, headed by veteran exec and producer Jeph Loeb, as Feige’s unit ramps up production on its own Marvel series projects.
“Feige’s shows are so far beyond anything Marvel TV has been able to do,” one TV lit agent who spoke with Variety said. “He has access to all of these MCU characters that the other Marvel live-action stuff just doesn’t, not to mention way bigger budgets.”
A Marvel Television insider told Variety that the company has several live-action projects at various stages of development. A spokesperson for Marvel Television declined to comment. Marvel Studios did not respond to a request for comment.
All of the shows that Marvel Studios is producing are expected to be six to eight episodes in length with budgets comparable to a Marvel film project, which typically run between $100 and $150 million. According to an individual with knowledge of the productions, Marvel Studios execs and Feige held meetings early on to discuss how to maintain the visual standard fans have come to expect from Marvel’s films while still bringing their budgets more in line with other TV shows. Those budgets will still be on the high end of the spectrum.
They will also be a far cry from past the budgets of past Marvel live-action shows. After the initial slate of Marvel-Netflix shows was announced, Variety reported in 2014 that the budget for the first seasons of “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” and “Iron Fist” would be $200 million total. With each season consisting of 13 episodes, that comes out to roughly $3.8 million per episode, not accounting for budget overruns and other factors.
While Loeb’s Marvel TV still falls under the purview of Isaac Perlmutter, Feige reports directly to Walt Disney Studios’ Alan Horn and Alan Bergman. Perlmutter is known to be a more conservative spender, believed to be one of the reasons that Feige nearly left the company before Disney boss Bob Iger split Marvel’s movie unit off from the rest of the company and put it directly under Horn and Bergman.
Under Loeb, Marvel Television successfully launched live-action dramas such as “Agents of SHIELD” and “Agent Carter” on ABC, “Legion” on FX, and the six Marvel-Netflix shows — “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist,” “The Defenders,” and “The Punisher.” The Netflix deal, at the time it was made, was a landmark for the television studio, with the streamer committing to five shows straight-to-series, then adding a sixth.
But since then, Marvel Television’s slate of live-action efforts have met mixed results. After Disney announced plans to launch its Disney Plus streaming service, Netflix canceled all six of its Marvel shows; “Agents of SHIELD” is ending a seven-season run on ABC this spring (wrapping at more than 130 episodes), and “Agent Carter” was canceled after two seasons in 2016, despite strong positive reception from critics. “Legion,” a collaboration with FX Productions and “Fargo” executive producer Noah Hawley, also recently wrapped up on FX after three seasons. Marvel TV had a very public misfire in ABC’s “Inhumans” series, which was canceled after one poorly-reviewed season in 2017, while the Fox-Marvel series “The Gifted” was canceled after two seasons earlier this year. A live-action “New Warriors” project had been ordered straight to series at Freeform in 2017, but that project was scrapped a year later. An animated “Deadpool” series from Donald and Stephen Glover that had received a series order from FXX also fell apart last year, with studio and network — as with “Ghost Rider” — citing creative differences.
The result is a slate that has been winnowed down to just a handful of projects. Marvel Television’s two current live-action shows are “Runaways” at Hulu, which launches its third season in December, and “Cloak & Dagger” at Freeform. The latter show ended its second season in April with no word yet on whether it will receive a third.
The only live-action show Marvel TV has in development with a network partner that has been announced is “Helstrom,” which was ordered to series at the same time as “Ghost Rider” at Hulu.
For the immediate future, it appears that Marvel Television will be focused on animation, as it had produced a number of animated series prior to venturing into live action. It is currently prepping four adult animated shows for Disney-owned Hulu: “Howard the the Duck,” “MODOK,” “Hit-Monkey,” and “Tigra and Dazzler.” All four of those shows will then crossover in the event series “The Offenders” similar to the Marvel-Netflix strategy that led to “The Defenders.”