Op/Ed: Marvel Stakes Claim To TV Land With JEPH LOEB Hiring

Op/Ed: Marvel Stakes TV Claim w/ Loeb

Now we get to see just how big the Marvel Universe can be.

That was my initial reaction to Monday’s news that Jeph Loeb had been hired to head Marvel’s newly created television department.

Because in many ways, this is as big a deal as the creation of Marvel Studios was, the company arm behind the various movies that are in the process of creating an onscreen Marvel Universe.

No, I haven’t been lacing my Cookie Crisp with ‘street sugar.’

But the fact remains, blockbuster movies only happen every two or three years, if you’re good and lucky. Television, on the other hand, can be a perpetual presence in the Pop Culture-sphere.

Being part of the Disney media family that includes ABC and ABC Family offers up tempting possibilities for ongoing series or TV movies based on Alias, Power Pack, Moon Knight, Taskmaster, Dazzler, Damage, Inc., Doc Samson …name a character. Why not?

We live in an era of 80 gajillion TV channels, all of who need fresh programming to pay the bills. Here comes Marvel with its ballyhooed 5,000-character library to save the day for programmers across the spectrum.

Much like DC Entertainment did in hiring Geoff Johns to be its Chief Creative Officer, Marvel hired a guy who could navigate the treacherous waters between comics, live-action TV and animation, and protect its characters. In Loeb, Marvel has a guy who not only knows comics, but TV from his time in the writers’ room of “Smallville,” “Lost” and “Heroes.” Say what you will about that show’s rapid fall from grace, but Season One of “Heroes” was a spectacular debut. Loeb had a hand in that, as co-executive producer/writer.

As for whether having a writer in the decision-making seat is an advantage for writers, TV writer/producer and screenwriter Ashley Miller, who scripted the screenplay for the upcoming “THOR” movie, said it depends on the situation.

“On some level, sure. It's very much the Marvel model to involve a writer with the development process. We worked with Craig Kyle on "Thor" and he was amazing,” said Miller. “We literally couldn't have done it without him. So I'm sure Jeph will be incredibly valuable to the creators who come to work with Marvel.”

“That said, I know a lot of excellent development executives and producers who aren't writers. Being a writer and knowing how to work with writers are two very different things -- one doesn't necessarily imply the other.”

Another question about Loeb will be, does he have the eye to spot future franchises? That will ultimately be the measurement of his new gig, and he doesn’t have a lot of no-brainers to work with.

Most of Marvel’s big guns are locked into big $$ movie studio deals – many, like Spider-Man, the X-Men and Fantastic Four, are tied to other studios – so Loeb is going to have to mine the far reaches of the Marvel library for TV stars.

Make no mistake; Marvel’s latest salvo in the multi-platform arms race is a clear a shot across DC’s bow. The fact that it hired a guy better known in recent years for his DC work (it was made official Tuesday that Loeb’s “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse” storyline will be the next DC Animated direct-to-DVD) to spearhead its new TV effort speaks volumes. But it would seem Marvel is done ceding the small-screen to DC as it has for much of the past four decades.

The Distinguished Competition may have its problems getting heroes not named Batman and Superman some quality theatrical work, but it has always been much more adept at small-screen adaptations than Marvel.

The legendary “Batman” series of the 1960s and the still-going-strong “Smallville” (on which Loeb served as writer-producer) would be enough for DC to claim victory over The House of Ideas in the live-action TV arena. Add in the other various Superman Family programs – “Lois & Clark” and “SuperBoy” – and it’s no contest. Even in terms of campy 70s diversions, there isn’t a comic geek alive and sane who wouldn’t pick “Wonder Woman” over the legendarily awful “Spider-Man” TV show.

What’s Marvel got to show for its live-action trouble? After “The Incredible Hulk” and the syndicated “Mutant X” show, not much. Even DC’s one-season wonders like “Flash” and “Birds of Prey” have aged better than say, oh, I don’t know…the “Nick Fury” TV movie starring David Hasselhoff.

Marvel has fared a little better with animation, particularly with its various Spider-Man and X-Men series and recent direct-to-DVD titles like “Planet Hulk,” but the company still comes up short when compared to the standards set by the Bruce Timm-constructed DC Animated universe. And aside from Nicktoons’ “Iron Man Adventures” and Cartoon Network’s “SuperHero Squad,” Marvel can’t seem to make its animated series stick.

Loeb has to figure out how to improve Marvel’s animation output both for television and the DVD market.

Speaking of which, can we expect cartoons tied to the “Captain America,” “Thor” and “Avengers” movies down the pike?

The fact of the matter is, while just about every character whose ever had a comic book with ‘Stan Lee Presents’ above the splash page has been discussed as possible Marvel movie fodder, not all of these characters are built to carry a film.

In the movies, Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. are shoehorned subplots in the “Iron Man” films. And I don’t care how hot Scarlett Johansson looked in “Iron Man 2,”  the Black Widow was completely incidental to the story.

But a TV series based on a spy agency set in the Marvel Universe? Now you’re talking. A television adaptation opens the doors to all kinds of storytelling possibilities. What about a show based on Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ “Marvels?” Hell, television may finally give poor Frank Castle one last chance at adaptive redemption.

The point is, the same logic applies for any number of heroes and even villains in the Marvel family. Why risk $30-50 million to make a movie based a lower-tier character that you have to hustle your marketing butt off to get people up to speed on, when for much less, you could produce a season’s worth of episodes of a “Power Man & Iron Fist” buddy series?

What about bringing the ‘intertwined universe’ idea currently being laid out in Marvel’s movie plans to TV? Miller, who’s worked as a producer/writer on “Fringe” and “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” knows a little bit about dealing with dense mythology on television. He’s skeptical, to say the least.

“No f&*$*ng way. Okay, maybe a little bit around the margins. We've seen versions of it with the various Star Trek shows, Buffy and Angel, etc.,” Miller allowed. “But the level of interconnectedness I think you're suggesting – i.e. constant crossover -- is unrealistic for television.”

OK, so maybe having Marvel characters doing cameos like the old “Batman” TV series is a bit far-fetched.

Still, Disney’s purchase of Marvel offers up so many possible options, because it has two different channels with vastly different programming needs.

A “Spider-Woman” show on ABC would have a much different sensibility, for example, than a teen drama on ABC Family about young Angelica "Firestar" Jones and her mysterious powers. That kind of flexibility gives Loeb and his team options, always a good thing to have.

Let’s see how this plays out.

And for the record, Marvel, a “Power Man & Iron Fist” show is an AWESOME idea.

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