In the last week or two, there's been some exciting TV development deals announced. Amazon Studios is developing an original series for their Instant Video service based on author Michael Connelly's Harry Bosh novels. The pilot episode is currently shooting in Los Angeles, with Titus Welliver set to star as the iconic Homicide detective. Lance Reddick, who played Broyles in Fringe and starred in The Wire, will also be playing an integral role in Bosch, along with a few other solid actors. You can read more about Connelly's new series at his daily 'from the set' blog. AMC's The Walking Dead was renewed for a fifth season. Not the least bit surprising, given its continued status as a ratings juggernaut. The network is expected to debut a spin-off series in 2015, but details are sparse. It should feature a new cast and a new locale, and if it's parent show is any indication, lots of surprises and suspense for the fans.
The biggest news, and for me, the most exciting, was the announcement of a distribution deal between Netflix and Marvel Studios. The video streaming service, which has rapidly become known for producing original content on par with HBO in its heyday, is set to broadcast four original series culminating in a mini-series, The Defenders. After many well-deserved theatrical wins (its most recent, Thor: The Dark World, opened Friday and claimed the number one spot at the box office), the Marvel Universe is further expanding its domain into episodic content. In September, the studio launched Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC. Now partnered with Netflix, Marvel will be debuting fresh live-action adaptations of Daredevil, and introducing the characters of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and The Immortal Iron Fist to larger, more mainstream audiences.
Each series has a 13-episode commitment, with the four shows converging in a miniseries event, The Defenders. With this plan, Marvel is bringing to Netflix the same mentality that made its shared universe of films a success, in which multiple stand-alone films converged in last summer's blockbuster, The Avengers.
While I wouldn't expect any of these news series to break an R-rating threshold, I do expect them to be a bit more adult and have less of an all-audiences approach as their current SHIELD series. Hell's Kitchen, where each show is expected to take place, is a rough neighborhood and a darker corner of the Marvel Universe than we've seen thus far. Jessica Jones, who took the lead as a hard-edged private eye in Brian Michael Bendis' spectacular comic Alias, was decidedly an adult take on the superhero genre and one of the Marvel's first adult-focused series under the Marvel MAX banner (a few years before The Punisher became a mainstay there). Luke Cage had a MAX title, too, for what its worth. Each character has a lot of shared history in the comics, so using television as a platform to adapt each, and to tie in to one another, is a logical progression for Marvel's filmic and television endeavors. Several of these characters are, or were, members of The Avengers in various iterations, so one has to wonder if these series could also be a platform to introduce future variations of Avengers line-ups for films to come. If Robert Downey, Jr. decides to take leave of the Iron Man and Avengers franchises, he will leave a considerable gap to fill. Perhaps by getting a segment of their audience used to more heroes, Marvel can fill the void left by Downey with some of these new characters.
The Netflix partnership also opens a greater degree of freedom for Marvel to introduce, or reintroduce, their stable of characters. Having recently regained film rights to The Punisher, which despite three attempts, has yet to find any degree of success (particularly creative success) on cinema, the studio finally has a chance to exert a high degree of control over producing an adaptation that stays true to the source material and can satisfy fans. The character also has a rich history with Daredevil, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Marvel using DD's series as a launch pad for the skull-wearing vigilante. There's a deep well of comic book history to draw inspiration from, particularly within the last decade or two. While Chuck Dixon provided some memorable stories for Frank Castle (including a rather unconventional team-up with Luke Cage), Greg Rucka's work, or even Garth Ennis' to a certain degree, are ripe for adaptation. I'm sure that the comic's forthcoming relaunch, helmed by Nathan Edmonson and Mitch Gerads, will provide plenty of cinematic sequences to draw from, as well.
Each of these new internet series offer the studio a great deal of creative freedom without any network restrictions, and each character will have a moment to shine with their display of power without breaking the budget or requiring heavy FX. Four street level heroes, who specialties mostly lie with strength and fighting skill, will make for much cheaper action sequences than the Iron Man films. This should let Marvel make some seriously cinematic television and invest in quality film stock and well-dressed sets.
The Marvel U is set to expand in 2015 on Netflix, probably after the second Avengers film, Age of Ultron, debuts that May. Phase 3 of Marvel's film plan promises to be an exciting platform-crossing adventure, and I'll be sure to be watching!