TV's crowded superhero genre needs to make room for a new entry today, as Netflix drops the first season of Marvel's Luke Cage. It's the third entry in what is now a six-series universe of Netflix shows revolving around Marvel's street-level heroes and villains in New York's Hell's Kitchen.
Almost three years ago, Marvel and Netflix announced four separate series—Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage—to culminate in an Avengers-style team-up in a miniseries called The Defenders. Since then, Netflix has released two seasons of Daredevil (and ordered Season 3 in July), one season of Jessica Jones (and ordered Season 2 in January) and now Luke Cage. In April, it announced a spinoff series, The Punisher, centering around the character (played by Jon Bernthal) who was introduced in Daredevil's second season.
That makes six Netflix Marvel series in all—with some characters appearing in multiple shows, like Luke Cage, who was first introduced last fall in Jessica Jones—which need to be plotted out and juggled by Jeph Loeb, Marvel's head of television and the executive producer of all Marvel's television series.
While Marvel has announced its film schedule for the next several years (it currently extends to a fourth Avengers film due on May 3, 2019, with three 2020 release dates already earmarked for still unnamed films), the company plays things much closer to the vest on the TV side. Next year will bring Iron Fist and The Defenders and then … only Loeb knows for sure.
"We very much have a schedule as to when things are happening, but we have chosen to say, look, this is where we are right now," said Loeb. "I also personally tend to find that when you talk about something that's coming, as opposed to what is happening right now, that people want to talk about the new thing, the new, shiny penny."
Also, Marvel is ultimately at the mercy of Netflix and the other networks that air its shows. "Unlike the motion picture division, which has the ability to say, 'On this date we're doing Ant-Man 2,' the television driving is always going to be talking to our [network partners], and they're the ones that are going to tell us whether or not there's going to be another season," said Loeb. "I can't do anything about that. All we can do is tell the best stories we can and hope that the audience comes."
But it also makes things more challenging for the showrunners behind Netflix's Marvel shows who not only have to wait to find out whether their shows will be renewed, but at which point in the ongoing saga the next season will actually air. Jessica Jones showrunner Melissa Rosenberg said that Season 2 will air at some point after The Defenders, but she didn't have any input as to when it would be slotted. "I just show up when they tell me to and pick up the pieces that are laying there for me, and start to play," said Rosenberg.
Before she began to plot out the storylines for Jessica Jones' second season, Rosenberg met with Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez, the Daredevil Season 2 showrunners who are overseeing The Defenders, for a detailed rundown of what was in store for her characters in that miniseries. "It all felt right," she said of the plans. "They invited comments from the other showrunners because we know our characters, and they really wanted to have our input. Marvel is very smart in having Marco and Doug do this because they are people who enjoy collaboration. If you had some kind of egomaniac, who was like, 'Get away from me!' and threatened by other creators, it wouldn't work. We'd all be like, 'What are you doing with that character?'"
Loeb and his team are still learning on the fly as they plan out Marvel's next TV moves. "There was no Marvel Television three years ago," said Loeb. Now, the company has six shows on Netflix, one on ABC (Agents of SHIELD), one series just ordered from FX (Legion, which is part of the X-Men Universe), a pilot in the works for Fox (a different X-Men-themed series in July) and a new series on the way for Freeform (which picked up the teen-themed Cloak and Dagger in April). How many TV series can Marvel juggle at once?
"I don't think that we would ever do anything that would set out to damage the stories that we're telling. So is there a particular number? No, but what's great about working with any of the networks that we're working with is they have a very good sense as to what they feel that they can order at the buffet," said Loeb, who pointed out that most of those networks operate on their own schedules.
"Netflix is very different from ABC, which is very different from FX," she said. "They all have a different way of putting their shows on the air. And so I don't perceive there to be a problem, simply because we're not telling stories that are necessarily in conflict with one another."