Like two superheroes fighting an archvillain, Marvel and Netflix are teaming up in a jaw-droppingly ambitious, multiseries deal announced Thursday.
The partnership, which will bring four 13-episode series and a miniseries about the "Flawed Heroes of Hell's Kitchen" to the streaming service beginning in 2015, marks a potentially blockbuster collaboration between two companies that have made aggressive pushes into the world of series television in the last year.
"House of Cards," the first series developed exclusively for Netflix, premiered on the service in February. The $100-million gamble paid off, yielding nine Emmy nominations and one win for Netflix. "Orange is the New Black," unveiled with much less fanfare in the summer, became its most-watched original and a critical darling.
Just this week, Netflix announced the acquisition of two documentaries, "The Square" and "The Short Game," moves that put it even more squarely in competition with prestige-TV leader HBO, which has a rich tradition of non-fiction programming, and could also make the company an Oscar contender. (Both films received qualifying theatrical releases.)
Having established itself as a destination for "quality," Netflix now appears to be getting into the tent-pole business, too.
In contrast, Marvel's first foray into live-action television, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," has met with more mixed results. The series, an "Avengers" spin-off created by Joss Whedon, was one of the best-reviewed new dramas of the fall when it premiered on ABC (which, like Marvel, is owned by Disney). It also got off to a strong start in the ratings, quickly earning a full-season order and becoming the network's best-rated new series, but "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has seen its audience decline in recent weeks, particularly among the under-50 set.
Some viewers have grumbled that the series is little more than a procedural with cooler gadgets, a criticism unlikely to be faced by the upcoming Marvel-Netflix collaborations, which will center on characters (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage) equipped with genuine superpowers, unlike the mere mortals in "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
Thursday's news release also described the upcoming series collectively as a "serialized epic" that will take viewers "deep into the gritty world of heroes and villains of Hell’s Kitchen, New York." Netflix's binge-viewing model, which places less importance on the episodic storylines characteristic of network television, could prove more conducive to the elaborate mythology of the superhero universe.
As Alan Fine, president of Marvel Entertainment, put it, "Netflix offers an incredible platform for the kind of rich storytelling that is Marvel’s specialty."
What's more, there may be less ratings pressure at Netflix, which so far has steadfastly refused to disclose how many people have watched its original series.