While Marvel Studios was solely in the business of making blockbuster movies for its first 11 years of existence, 2021 is opening new doors for the MCU’s storytelling. This is coming with the introduction of the Disney+ streaming service, which Marvel has used to great effect to kick off Phase 4 with WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Both of these series, along with nearly a dozen others planned for this year and next, are quickly breaking the mold of what TV shows have typically been shown as through the history of media. Rather than tell multiple short stories in an episodic fashion, Marvel's Disney+ series are put forth as one extended story separated into six to ten unique parts.
WandaVision utilized the classic TV format for six of its episodes for the particular story it told, although the other three used Marvel's new format, as did all six entries of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Due to this change, the crew behind the scenes is organized a little differently than that of a network TV series.
As it turns out, this adjustment could potentially spell some trouble for the future...
NO SHOWRUNNERS FOR MARVEL'S DISNEY+ SHOWS
Variety recently went in-depth on Marvel Studios' new venture into Disney+ storytelling, specifically the way the studio uses the "head writer" position rather than "showrunner" or "creator."
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige took the time at San Diego Comic-Con 2019 to introduce the studio's plans for its Disney+ series, describing them as long MCU movies separated into hour-long episodes. He signaled these changes immediately by introducing Malcolm Spellman as the head writer for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier with Kari Skogland serving as the director.
This is a change from classic TV shows which usually utilize one or two writers/executive producers who run everything involved with the show. With Marvel producing the shows similar to the way they do the movies, it gives director a lot of decision-making freedom in terms of creativity and empowerment along with Marvel's creative executives.
Skogland described it as "a nuance," albeit one that's "being embraced more and more because the job honestly in these big, epic miniseries or shows is too big." She revealed that she was in the writers' room so she "could really absorb what was being said and be part of the process" of making the show, complementing the journey as "very effective and efficient" and "too much work for any one person:"
“It’s a nuance, but it’s one that I think is being embraced more and more because the job honestly in these big, epic miniseries or shows is too big. I was in the writers’ room so that I could really absorb what was being said and be part of the process by floating ideas. As we were going through production, we would workshop scenes and then ask for rewrites on things. So [Malcolm Spellman] was still very much a part of the whole process, but it’s a slightly different mechanical way it comes down. Honestly, it’s very effective and efficient, because it’s just too much work for any one person.”
Although Marvel is excited about this change, an unnamed TV writer warned that this process will "bite them in the ass when it comes to recruiting top-shelf writer talent." Particularly, it could apply to "experienced showrunner[s] with multiple shows under [their] belt" who may not want to work under those kinds of conditions:
“At some point, it’ll bite them in the ass when it comes to recruiting top-shelf writer talent. If you’re a midlevel writer getting a giant bump to ‘run’ a Marvel show, of course you’re going to do it. But if you’re an experienced showrunner with multiple shows under your belt, are you gonna work under those conditions? Probably not.”
Another anonymous writer bluntly said they "will never work on a Marvel TV show" due to the fact that Feige is the de facto showrunner, not wanting to make TV shows in that manner:
“I will never work on a Marvel TV show. They do have a showrunner. It’s Feige — which is fine! I just wouldn’t want to work that way, that’s all.”
The president of Writers Guild of America West, David Goodman, called this change "concerning," although he looks at Marvel Studios as a "unique case." He made it clear that Marvel is "going to need good writers" to keep its product quality to the established standards, although he admited that he's "in awe of what they’ve done" over the years:
“If Marvel still wants to have its product be at the standard that people are coming to expect from it, they’re going to need good writers, and they’re going to have to invest those writers with responsibility. I stand in awe of what they’ve done at Marvel. Others have tried, and they haven’t succeeded.”
MARVEL TRAVELING DOWN ITS OWN PATH
Marvel Studios is certainly making some noise with this major change in how TV shows are produced. However, this shouldn't be too much of a shock considering this is the same studio that dared to build an interconnected cinematic universe more than a decade ago.
These new Disney+ shows have proven that Marvel's new model is working by making a TV series more like an extended movie, with each episode bringing new twists and turns every week. With the budget and time that goes into each individual series, Kevin Feige and his team seem confident that this form of storytelling is exactly what will work for a franchise like the MCU.
While some big-name TV professionals may see this as something bad for television, this is simply something new with Marvel integrating long-form adventures into a universe consisting of 23 movies to date. Quite frankly, Marvel has proven to be in a league of its own building a unique story with so many interconnected superheroes, so it makes sense that it would take a new path with making TV shows as well.
The biggest question remaining now is how each individual show will help the MCU evolve in relation to the movies, which will return to theaters starting in July with Black Widow.
WandaVision is confirmed to connect with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness while The Falcon and the Winter Soldier set the stage for the newly announced Captain America 4, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
The MCU's run on Disney+ will continue with Loki, which premieres on June 9, 2021.