Animation And More: JEPH LOEB Talks Marvel TV Plans

JEPH LOEB Talks Marvel TV Plans

Just about 24 hours after the announcement that Jeph Loeb would head up Marvel Entertainment's newly created television department, plenty of questions linger. Luckily, we were able to ask them to Loeb himself, speaking to the current Hulk writer, former producer/writer of Lost, Smallville, Heroes and four-time Eisner Award-winner about his new position as Executive Vice President, Head of Television.

In one of his first interviews since the announcement, Loeb spoke to Newsarama via telephone on what exactly the job entails, the status of existing projects and preliminary future plans for the new TV division. 

Newsarama: Jeph, thank you for taking the time to chat with us — it's been a big week for you! Just to start off with, what's the timeline been for you in terms of getting this appointment? Can you walk us through a bit of how you ended in this position?

Jeph Loeb: After the Disney buyout it became apparent that Disney was very interested in bringing Marvel into television. There was already an ongoing relationship within the world of animation and because Disney has so many networks — ABC, ABC Family, Disney Channel, XD, ESPN — there were a number of opportunities that suddenly became available to Marvel to get into that medium.

At the same time, Dan Buckley (President and Publisher at Marvel) had to been talking to me about television in general, because of my past experience working on shows like Buffy Animated, Smallville, Lost and Heroes. It really became a matter of timing. Marvel has done such an amazing job in the feature division with its movies, that when it came time to explore television, they wanted to do it carefully and selectively. They offered me this amazing opportunity with this new division to work with the Disney networks to bring the Marvel catalog to the television screen.

Nrama: It said in press the release that you will be overseeing a lot of Marvel's television and direct-to-DVD features, but I wanted to ask if you could just sort of elaborate a bit as to what some of your responsibilities will be in your new position?

Loeb: Well, there's three different areas that Marvel is exploring and will continue to work with: the first are the direct-to-DVD animated videos, like Planet Hulk — which I loved. The second are continuing and expanding in the areas of animation, currently they have Super Hero Squad, which is on Cartoon Network, starting in the fall will be Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes on Disney XD, and we're developing Ultimate Spider-Man, also for Disney XD.

There are some projects in animation that we're not ready to talk about, but we're going to be developing and expanding into that arena. Our hope is to bring Marvel Animation up to the quality and notoriety of the publishing and movie division. We're now part of the legacy of Disney, where animation is king, and it's our responsibility to up our game and create something that sets Marvel Animation apart from everything else that's out there. At least that's our challenge and our hope.

And then there's a brand new division that we'll do with live action, where we're working in partnership with ABC and ABC Family to find the right properties, the right characters and develop them. To start, we will be exploring the one-hour drama field similar to the shows that I mentioned that I've worked on, like Smallvillle and Lost.

Nrama: Just stemming off those three areas you were talking about — as a whole, what do you feel the mission is here? Is it a matter of distilling the characters to create a new entry point for people, or building up on the mythology the comics have started? For you, what's the main goal?

Loeb: The feature film division set out to make the best movies based on Marvel characters — to get the best talent, to really establish themselves at the top of the superhero genre. Iron Man was a home run; the things that I've heard about Thor just sound amazing, Captain America is only getting started and with every piece of news that leaks out it sounds wonderful.

That's the same kind of mindset: Everyone here wants Marvel Television to be known for making the best shows we can based on Marvel characters that will reach out to a worldwide audience and at the same time, get our fanbase excited.

Nrama: You were talking earlier about some of the shows you've worked on in the past, like Smallville and Heroes and the like. What do you feel you've brought out of those experiences, that you will be bringing with you as Head of Television?

Loeb: ...Good question. Television is primarily a writer's medium, and the shows that really stick in our minds — particularly genre shows — the best ones are particularly driven by someone who has a very clear vision. Damon Lindelof on Lost, Al Gough and Miles Millar on Smallville, Joss Whedon on Buffy and Angel. These are the kinds of people and relationships that we want to look to as we develop our properties, so that the shows themselves have a very unique and distinct flavor and at the same time remain true the characters that Marvel fans love and still find a worldwide audience.

Nrama: Just touching upon that a little bit, as well as the day-to-day of what your new job will entail, how do you plan on developing these shows? Is it going to be concept first, or is it going to be the relationships you've established over your time in Hollywood? How are you going to approach developing these shows?

Loeb: I've been on the job for about 24 hours! (laughs) However, we will work very closely with the people at ABC and ABC Family for selecting the properties that we want to develop, then bringing in the right people in order to expand on those stories and to make the best shows that we can. I should also point out this is a brand-new adventure, and I can't yet talk about some of the decisions that have been made in terms of the properties that are being developed and the people that we'll talking to.

Nrama: I should ask, you were talking about Ultimate Spider-Man earlier. I know not too much can be said, but what's your level of involvement with that show, and have there been any developments since the show's announcement a few months back?

Loeb: There have been. Some of that we'll be talking about in San Diego — we want to leave a few surprises in the toy chest. But by that same token, that show continues to be developed, it has amazing group of people working on it, and I'm looking forward to talking more about it when the time's appropriate.

Nrama: Do you feel that there's a particular gold standard in terms of comics-to-television shows that you feel that Marvel should be trying to emulate for all of its shows?

Loeb: Sure. I think we should all be so lucky as to have a show that's as successful as Smallville, as it now goes into its tenth season. To be able to have a show that has worldwide impact of something like Lost. And personally as a fan of animation, Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond are amazing examples of what can be done in this genre and to look towards.

Nrama: Looking at Marvel's past in particular, are there any gems that you feel are the reigning champ of Marvel Television at this point?

Loeb: I'm a huge fan of the Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk series — I'm sort of amazed as to how well it still holds up, particularly emotionally. But, you know, it's no secret, there hasn't been a lot of this — Marvel has historically not really been in the live action television business, and so that's part of what's exciting. It's a brand new frontier for us to be going into, and I'm really delighted to be part of the group that's going to take us there. And none of this would have been possible, realistically, without Disney. Because this was a business that they know and understand so well, as well as having access to so many networks — so that ABC Studios and ABC Family Studios really know how to make television shows for those networks.

Nrama: Considering your past on Smallville and Heroes, how is this job different in terms of the day-to-day stuff? Obviously this is a huge step up in terms of rank, but how will working with Marvel and Disney as opposed to what you were doing then?

Loeb: Well, the biggest difference is I'm, along with the Marvel television team, we're responsible for everything that gets produced. You work on an individual television show, you're responsible for that particular television show. So while I probably will not be as involved day-to-day as I would when I was on a regular series, I think that we'll be involved in the creative direction of the show and be as supportive as we can to the creative showrunner of that particular project.

Our hope is that given the size of our catalog and the appetite that's out there we will be lucky to have more than one show out there at any given time. I think that's what my grandfather used to refer to as, "a good problem."

Nrama: It's obviously early on, but that comment you were saying about having more than one show up at any given time — what's the strategy for you on that regard? Is it a matter of leveraging the differences in storytelling, in bending genre? Do you think the market is big enough for multiple shows?

Loeb: Everything will be looked at as a case-by-case basis. Looking across the street, DC has had some success, a smash-hit with Smallville and they're now building on the Human Target. If you look at it from a publishing point of view, the two things couldn't be more different, both in terms of genre and in terms of feel, than the Superman franchise and the Human Target character. So the real key for us is to find the right property for the right network with the right studio, and make sure we've got the right creator-showrunner in order to bring that vision to the screen. We are planning on doing this very cautiously, very carefully and very selectively — it's worked very well for the feature department, and that's the model that we'll be looking at.

Nrama: You were saying, as a fan, I know nothing's set in stone yet, but as a fan, are there any particular characters or franchises you'd like to see on the small screen?

Loeb: You're not going to get me to go down that road right now! (Laughs) It's a great question. But I am curious about what the fans out there would like to see. Already the things that I've read and the discussions we've had internally, people, Marvel fans do have particular shows that they have in mind and our idea is try to reach out and make that stuff happen.

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