Mailbag #1: Marvel's TV Plans, the Quality of the Fall Season, FXX, and the Future of Late-night TV

  • 38comments

Last month, we sent up the Batsignal and asked for your TV-related questions, comments, and concerns for a brand-new feature, the Mailbag. I've collected some of the queries we received (from actual emails, tweets, comments on the post, etc.) and am ready to provide my best answers. If your question isn't answered here, don't fret. It's still in the queue. And we're just getting started with this feature, so if you were a little nervous about being part of the test-run, please send us your TV-related thoughts at any time and they could be answered in this space (the email address is, but I'm always available on Twitter @corybarker, or you can shoot Qs to the official @tvdotcom Twitter account as well). 

Enough dilly-dallying, let's get to your thoughts.

"Who does Marvel think is going to buy their 60-episode package, and who is dumb enough to bite? Relatedly, any chance this project improves the MCU's diversity problem?" —Austin M. 

Netflix! It's like they heard you type that question and decided to announce its new partnership with Marvel just for this story. The video-streaming service is now officially joining forces with Marvel to launch shows about Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage—along with a miniseries that brings them all together in an Avengers-like event—starting in 2015. 

Or course, the news that Marvel wants to do upwards of five new projects is hardly surprising, its ridiculousness notwithstanding. This is the same kind of strategy they tried—and thrived with—on the film side. Think back to 2008, when Nick Fury first appeared at the end of Iron Man and Marvel tried to do a second Hulk-centric film in five years. There were people who thought Marvel was nuts to try to build a universe in support of an Avengers film. I was one of them. But now we know how that worked out. Marvel is currently riding high enough that it's thinking it can do it all again on the small screen. 

Here's the problem: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not Iron Man (if we're keeping the comparison going). I don't think the show's all that good, and it certainly isn't good enough to convince a large audience to immediately watch five other projects just on the back of Marvel's reputation for great television programs. Yes, there will be some Marvel diehards who watch, and now that it's been announced that the company's next projects will air on Netflix, the barometers for success are lower than they would be on ABC. But it's easy to be cynical about them for a number of reasons—Marvel's cockiness, the fact that watching S.H.I.E.L.D. can be as frustrating as typing out the title, the sheer size of the project. However, if there's one thing we know about contemporary television content providers like Netflix, it's that they're hungry for more programming. So hungry. 

I'm not that surprised that Netflix will be final destination for the projects. It seemed like Marvel and Disney were looking outside the larger conglomerate family—initially, I thought the eager-to-make-a-splash WGN had a shot—but Netflix has the cachet and the money to make this grand-scale enterprise happen and to promote it successfully. But the Netflix move raises all sorts of questions: Will all the shows air premiere at the same time, or will they unspool like the films did, with, say, one every premiering every six months? Does this mean that the shows will have larger production budgets to work with, and more time to film? Will bigger stars who generally aren't interested in the rigors of TV week be more interested in joining these projects? Will any of the Avengers appear? Will Kevin Spacey guest-star and talk directly to the camera?

A lot of questions like these remain, and I can't wait to hear more. These individual projects could very well be interesting, depending on the focus and/or the creative teams Netflix, er, "assembles." But here's what we do know: WB/DC should be embarrassed. Marvel/Disney has been trouncing them on the film side, building up multiple properties and event films while WB/DC puts out stuff like Green Lantern and Man of Steel (which I liked well enough, but it was worse than most Marvel films). Up until now, WB/DC has been able to point to their TV output. Smallville was around forever, Arrow's pretty great, Flash-centric series is en route, and so is that show about Hourman. But now WB/DC has no ground to stand on. Marvel/Disney is killing them on the film side and making huge moves on the small screen as well. Even if all five of these Netflix projects are mediocre, the move itself is impressive enough. 

The diversity problem is probably harder to fix, but it's something the company should really be thinking about, especially if it wants to have a foothold on television (or "television" via Netflix). If you're not going to care about diversity because you SHOULD care about diversity, at least care about it because it makes smart business sense, right? I'm no comics expert, but I know there are at least a few minority characters out there in the Marvel universe. Luke Cage means that at least one of Marvel's upcoming projects will have a minority lead. Some of the others have minority characters in supporting roles as well. So it's a small step in the right direction, I guess. 

"Is the Smithsonian really just a cover for spies, or did the writers of Scandal catch up on the first season of Covert Affairs?" —Eden L.

I didn't even think of this weird coincidence before the question, but it made me laugh quite a bit. I cannot answer this, however, because [redacted] when I [redacted]. Don't Google [redacted] kids! 

"Why does the 2013-14 season suck so bad?" —JT_Kirk

This is a loaded question, but I'll say that I've certainly felt uh... underwhelmed by this season's crop of new shows. We're almost through with November Sweeps already, and there aren't many newbies I'm excited to watch in a given week. It's basically just Masters of Sex, Trophy Wife, and somehow The Tomorrow People and The Blacklist for me—although thankfully, Almost Human is looking quite promising so far. Yet, despite my general MEH response to these new shows, very few of them are offensively awful. Sleepy Hollow is fun, The Originals is starting to figure things out, and a bunch of other shows are as just fine as just fine can get (The GoldbergsHello LadiesThe Millers, Brooklyn Nine-NineMom, etc.). I feel like the last few seasons were burdened with more outright TERRIBLE shows, but also buoyed up by more obviously exciting ones. Last season we had Arrow and Elementary from the broadcast nets at least. 

But let's actually try to figure this out. Here are a couple possible answers to your question:

Glass half-full: It feels like this season is bad because the networks have realized that it's not necessary or even smart to front-load the schedule in September; it's better to space things out a little bit. That's why Almost Human didn't premiere until last week, and there are still a lot of new shows still to come: CrisisResurrectionAbout a BoyRakeIntelligence, etc. And that's just on broadcast. A world with very few interesting new shows and without JustifiedThe AmericansGame of ThronesMad MenGirls, and Rectify is a much less interesting world. The midseason holds a lot of promise; there's still hope.

Glass half-empty: The pilot system is broken. Like, "2008 American economy" broken. The idea that most television programs go from pitch to full pilot in just a few months, and that all of the networks are following this same process at the exact same time, thereby creating hysteria for casting agents, producers, and just about everybody else, is really dumb. I hate to make the lame "cable is better" argument, but in this regard, cable is kind of better. Cable channels develop programs through a much more iterative, much less insane approach. If an idea takes a year to get reach the pilot stage, it's not the end of the world. Broadcast shows don't have this luxury, and as viewers, we have more and more options; we don't have to watch the new broadcast shows just because they're new. ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and The CW have to do more to impress us these days, and the pilot process doesn't really nurture an environment where that can reliably happen. 

But let's be honest: There's still a lot of good TV out there. And hey, speaking of that...

"Cory, let's hear your opinions about the fall season... OF ANIME. How are you feeling about Kill La Kill? Is Diabolik Lovers a shameless cash-in on the game, or is it doing something really interesting? Has Meganebu! already seen us burn out the fujoshi-targeted series? Do you think Coppelion has a shot at making your "best shows of the year" list?" —Noel K. 

Oh wait, this is the opposite of good TV. J/K Noel xoxo. But seriously, this is what I'm talking about! There's all kinds of wild, interesting stuff out there. If you're bored with The Crazy Ones or Hostages, you could totally try Kill La Kill or Diabolik Lovers, which sound amazing in name alone. 

"With Jimmy Fallon set to take over for Jay Leno, and Seth Meyers to run Late Night, the next big change must come when David Letterman retires at CBS. When (if?) that happens, who do you think will take over, and will it set up a chain reaction of late-night shifts?" —Nick W.

I wrote a little about what Seth needs to do during his first few months at Late Night in the spring, and the more I've thought about it, the more I think he'll be okay. That dude is such a professional that I can't imagine he'll experience the same kind of awkward moments that Conan and Fallon dealt with in the early going. 

But Letterman? I'm not sure he's ever leaving. His previous contract was supposed to expire in 2014, but in October it was extended through 2015. Dave will be 68 when it concludes, which means he'll be older than Johnny Carson was when he left NBC in 1992. It'd be pretty wild to imagine Letterman working at Late Show into his 70s, but let's be honest: He kind of phones it in most of the time anyway. Although there are still great moments on that show and he makes those moments happen, there's not a consistent buzz surrounding Letterman like there once was. And that's okay. Even if the comedic fastball isn't always there, he's still pretty spry. If CBS still wants to pay him in 2016 and he can keep working the same schedule—where they tape Friday's show on Thursday—then I don't see why he would leave. 

However, let's pretend that CBS is ready to move on, and/or Dave realizes that he doesn't want to do keep doing the Late Show as a septuagenarian. Things get interesting. CBS isn't going to promote from within, as good as Craig Ferguson is. The network will want a bigger star than that; it's just how CBS operates. The most likely candidates are the two guys we're always hearing about: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Stewart's the more logical candidate, especially since his hiatus this past summer proved that The Daily Show can run smoothly in his absence (though, should Stewart's departure come to pass, The Daily Show will no longer have John Oliver to fall back on). Colbert might actually be the better choice from a comedy perspective, but would he stay in character for the new gig, and would CBS even want that?

Here's the most interesting option though: Conan. His TBS contract is up in November 2015, the same year Letterman's is done. He and Letterman appear to have a nice relationship, at least publicly (mutual hatred for Jay Leno will do that, I suppose). He's a big name. And perhaps most importantly, I get the impression that Conan's still smarting over what happened at NBC in 2010. I'm sure he's happy being TBS's big star, but he's sort of been doing that show in the ether for a while now. It does well with young people, but it also doesn't seem to have the kind of online traction that Jimmy Fallon and even Jimmy Kimmel do. Why not return to the proverbial big leagues, bring his young viewers, and stick it to dastardly NBC along the way? Wouldn't it be fitting for the second guy who got screwed by NBC to follow the first?

"Is FXX, the brand-new channel from FX, considered a success?" —efonsecajr

It's still pretty early, but thus far FXX is doing generally fine. The ratings for the big comedies that moved over from the mothership, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League, started at nearly identical levels to what they were getting last season on FX. That was the first big obstacle for the new channel; if people sought out those established series during the first few weeks (and set their DVRs), FXX would be in good shape. A recent Adweek story noted that FXX has picked up 12.7 million subscribers since the switch from Fox Sports Soccer or whatever the hell it was before September, and that's pretty damn impressive in my book. The same article also pointed out, unsurprisingly, that FXX is killing it with young men, which is exactly what FX and News Corp. wanted when the offshoot was announced. 

However, it's not, errrr, always sunny at FXX. Along with Always Sunny and The League, FX pushed Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell over to to the new network and expanded it from one night to five. That was a big sign of confidence in what is an interesting, often funny late night show. Unfortunately, it performed really awful in the ratings on the four nights that didn't also include other original programming. Deadline reported a few weeks ago that the show's total viewers in the 18-34 and 18-49 demos were around 3k-4k. Even on basic cable, that's rough. And last week, FXX canceled the show (or perhaps put it out of its misery), which is certainly not the best sign of the new channel's stability.

I thought FX/FXX would've been more patient with Totally Biased, but this points to what will ultimately be the new channel's biggest challenge moving forward: new original programming. Totally Biased wasn't technically new—just expanded—but eventually FX Networks is going to have to debut an entirely unseen series on FXX. The original plan was to air upcoming comedy Chozen on the new network, but then FX announced that it will be keeping the Danny McBride-produced newbie on the mothership to create a nice block with Archer. Convincing viewers of long-running, generally beloved comedies to make the switch isn't a cakewalk, but it's not an overwhelming challenge either. And even though FXX's astounding purchase of the ENTIRE Simpsons library will likely draw new audiences to the channel, but will viewers watch an unknown new show on FXX? That's something to keep an eye on.

"How many years of American Horror Story do you want?" —Girish K.

Is 10 seasons too many? How about 15? American Horror Story is one of the best projects on TV right now, both because it's actually entertaining every week and because the story model that Ryan Murphy and company have come with has really worked out well. It seems like rebooting the show each fall keeps Murphy interested in the project, which is really important for a dude who gets bored and/or burned out quickly. Price has been doing the Lord's work with his photo recaps, especially because this season has been so meme-worthy. The Kathy Bates "LIEEEESSSSSS" .GIF... in the running for best TV moment of 2013, maybe the century. I'm not sure Coven is on the same level of combined insanity/heft as Asylum, but it's still on the right track. 

I think the better question is trying to imagine where the show could go next. I appreciate Murphy's restraint in not doing a vampire- or werewolf-centric project yet, and that could obviously be in play, but the creative team seems to prefer to stick with topics that have some historical grounding. Maybe something about backwoods, hillbilly killers is next? I'd love to hear your ideas.

"Okay, so I have just started to watch The Vampire Diaries on Netflix. But I'm still in Season 1. Do I have to catch up on TVD to watch The Originals?" —2wksnotice

There are a few ways to look at this. Technically, I think you could get away with not watching TVD if you're really interested in starting The Originals. The mythology of the "Original" family was definitely fleshed out within TVD's narrative over Seasons 2, 3, and 4, but it was often supplemental to the stories going on with TVD's main characters. Worst case, you can read background info on Wikipedia or check out Price's older recaps of TVD

However, you should absolutely watch TVD. The show lends itself to the kind of outrageous, can't-stop, never-showering marathoning that Netflix allows us to do. When I caught up, it was right after Season 1, and the marathon experience was exhilarating. I cannot imagine how awesome it would be to have four seasons at your disposal. And watching in that way means you won't think too much about the plot holes and convoluted mythology, particularly in the recent seasons. 

But it seems like you're committed to watching both anyway, so why not try out The Originals in between stints of mainlining TVD on Netflix? Both shows jump around in time (and at this point, maybe space, hell if I know what's going on), so you'd actually get a cool experience where information is being filled in at different spots all the time. Don't worry about spoilers! 

"I've been hearing the term 'put pilot'. What is that?" —IndianaMom

Put pilots are pilot deals that come with a substantial penalty attached if the project doesn't ultimately make it to air. That penalty? $$$$$, of course. So with a few recent put pilot deals—NBC's Murder, She Wrote reboot and a Shawn Ryan project at Fox, for example—the networks will have to pay a handsome fee to those involved if the pilots never make it to their respective schedules. It does seem like there've been more of these in recent years, particularly when high-profile names are involved. And that makes some sense. You don't spend the money to get a Shawn Ryan project together and then not air it. You probably cancel it after the first season, but you at least air it. Remember when I said the pilot system is broken? Put pilots probably don't help. 

"Why do networks make some TV series start and end off by a minute? (i.e. 9:01-10:01pm)" —diana121

This is going to be a shocking answer, but it's all about the money. The screwy start and end times can throw off our DVR programming, right? That's so annoying. If you realize that your DVR is missing the last 45 seconds of New Girl and you don't record its lead-out show The Mindy Project, you'll probably do one of a few things: Mess with your frustrating cable guide to pad in for the overrun or—and this is what the networks hope—you'll just decide to watch live so you won't miss a single second. And if you watch live instead of watching via DVR, you can't skip those lovely commercials. When all else fails, the answer to any industry-related question is probably "cash money." 

There were also some more administrative questions in the lot, so I now concede the floor to Jen. 

"Whatever happened to the AMERICA'S GOT CABLE series that was abandoned? (Still waiting for the FX vs. AMC face-off!)" and "Can you also resurrect the podcasts?" —Trevor P.

Hi! It's Jen T., your trusty managing editor, here. Oh gosh, America's Got Cable. You know how sometimes a network will just quietly not say anything about a show being renewed or canceled and eventually viewers just have to assume the worst? That's basically what's happened here. 

Just to give you a little more backstory, though, we never *actually* intended to cancel the series. But for awhile it just didn't fit into our editorial calendar, and it did lose some steam as we got to later rounds with repeat networks. And just like the networks make decisions based on cash money, I have to at least factor in pesky little things like pageviews when deciding what stories you'll see on 

HOWEVER: Since we never did hold an FX vs. AMC showdown, I think I feel a special round of "This vs. That" coming on. Keep an eye out. 

As for the podcast: Yes! Eventually! We just haven't had time to do them this fall. We'll do are darnedest to bring them back in 2014. 

"I really love the 'Let's Discuss' forums prior to the reviews being posted. Can we always have those? —Mandee

Glad to hear it! We generally publish the "Let's Start Talking About [SHOW]" stories when we have a review on the way but aren't able to screen the episode ahead of time. However, I'm wondering if what you're asking for are "chat" posts related to shows that we don't typically review? If that's the case, speak up in the comments. We could certainly try the "open thread" approach for series that aren't currently receiving weekly coverage. Related: Are there are any shows in particular that you'd like to see get that treatment?

And of course, of course I can't answer this question without pointing you toward our show communities, where anyone can start a discussion about anything pertaining to a specific series. PLUS, we just launched a batch of topic-based pages, which lend themselves to broader dicussions. Check 'em out:

General TV Discussion


TV Industry

Science-fiction Feedback

Site Announcements

– And more!

As always, feedback is welcome—we always like to hear what you think.

Have a TV-related question, comment, or concern? Let us know via email  at, in the comments, or on Twitter. 

Like on Facebook

  • 8:00 pm
    500 Questions
  • 9:00 pm
    The Messengers Metamorphosis
  • 10:00 pm