With 13 TV Series Across 6 Networks, Can Marvel Defeat Superhero Fatigue?

Media buyers worry about genre oversaturation

FX has renewed Marvel's Legion for a second season in 2018.
FX

Just four years ago, Marvel debuted its first live-action TV series, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Its TV empire has exploded since then, and the Disney-owned company now has 13 different series currently airing or preparing to debut in the next year, across six broadcast, cable and streaming outlets (see sidebar).

As two new Marvel shows premiere—Marvel’s Inhumans last Friday on ABC; Fox’s The Gifted on Monday night—buyers are worrying about how the influx will affect the already overstuffed superhero genre, which includes six series produced by Marvel’s rival, DC. “Whenever something is overplayed, it dilutes that franchise or could dilute the whole genre,” said Maureen Bosetti, chief investment officer at Initiative. “Marvel has been very successful in the movies and on television, so there’s a good opportunity, but I’m always concerned about oversaturating any genre, no matter how successful it has been historically. When there’s too much, things start to look the same and audiences start to get fragmented.”

“Whenever something is overplayed, it dilutes that franchise or could dilute the whole genre.”
Maureen Bosetti, chief investment officer at Initiative

At first, Marvel concentrated its TV shows on ABC and Netflix (which now airs six separate series), but expanded its output this year to include programs on FX, Fox and Hulu, with a pair of Freeform series set for 2018. “It’s everywhere now,” said another buyer of Marvel’s slate. “There’s so many places that you can get it, it’s not sustainable.”

The company, however, counters that its series are diverse and distinctive enough to support such a robust slate. “One of the things we’re very proud of is each of the shows has a different feel, metaphor, cast and tone,” said Jeph Loeb, evp, head of Marvel Television. “I’m not sure you would be asking that question if we were making police shows, medical shows or lawyer shows.”

Loeb said while the Marvel brand might initially draw in audiences, his shows at their core aren’t about which character has which superpower. “The Gifted, to us, is a family drama. Are their super-cool powers and X-Men elements in there? Absolutely. If that’s the reason to watch the show, awesome. But if you want to watch a show about people who have real problems in a real, grounded world, hopefully you’ll get caught up in the story, and not so much in the powers,” said Loeb.

Gary Newman, Fox Television Group CEO and chairman, said he isn’t worried either about potential oversaturation as his network launches The Gifted. “Our show is unique and specific,” Newman said. “It lays itself out well for thematic storytelling, and what does it mean to be a family? It’s not going to have as heavy a mythology as some of the other Marvel shows, so there’s a great opportunity for it.”

Still, as the superhero genre has snowballed, at least one network is taking precautions. While The CW is adding a fifth DC superhero series, Black Lightning, at midseason, network president Mark Pedowitz said he won’t put more than four genre shows on the air simultaneously. “When we first got into the superhero world, we were pretty much by ourselves,” said Pedowitz. “We recognize that, so we’re going to be ultra-selective about what happens next.”

But for Marvel, it’s business as usual as long as viewers continue tuning in. Said Loeb, “Whether or not there are too many genre shows is going to be something that the audience tells us.”

This story first appeared in the Oct. 2, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.