Several movie blockbusters of recent years, hailing from a long-iconic comic brand, surely haven't hurt in preselling one of the new season's most anticipated series. "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." bursts into action Tuesday, Sept. 24, on ABC with a combination of intrigue and special effects likely to satisfy anyone thinking even in passing about getting on board.
Executive producers including Joss Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Firefly") and his brother Jed make the intrigue immediate by including Agent Phil Coulson, since Clark Gregg reprises the character who supposedly met his doom on theater screens last year in "Marvel's The Avengers."
"It's been kind of crazy," Gregg reflects of the ride he's also had through the films "Iron Man," "Iron Man 2" and "Thor."
"I've gotta say, as a 51-year-old character actor who's friends with a lot of other character actors, it's kind of unparalleled. You get a certain number of shots, and you try to hit the ball hard. I've been doing this for a while, so to have so much fun stuff start to happen has really been exciting."
The situation is particularly gratifying for Gregg, whose Coulson leads a specially skilled team fighting bizarre criminals globally, since he "grew up loving comics and sci-fi, discussing them as things that still seem to be about something and can be funny in the way Joss Whedon does them. And to get the chance to work with Joss, I really feel very fortunate."
Another face familiar to the Marvel faithful turns up in the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." premiere -- but for the benefit of those still unaware, no further spoilers here. Series co-stars new to the Marvel universe include Ming-Na Wen ("ER") as martial-arts-trained pilot Melinda May, Brett Dalton as espionage veteran Grant Ward, Elizabeth Henstridge as biochemical expert Jemma Simmons, Iain De Caestecker as engineer Leo Fitz and Chloe Bennet ("Nashville") as computer hacker Skye.
Whedon also wrote and directed "Marvel's The Avengers" and will direct its "Age of Ultron" sequel.
"The thing that appealed to me from the very beginning about the show," he says, "is the idea of the people who don't have the superpowers, who didn't get the hammer, who didn't get the supersoldier serum. (It's) the idea that everybody matters, that the people that get shunned to the side in a giant epic that's only on the screen for two hours can take the spotlight ... the underdog, the common man.
"Clark was that sort of an audience proxy in the movies, and the TV show is very much (like that). I think you can see that from the pilot, very much that sense of 'Well, what about the rest of us? How do we cope with this?' It was important that our core team, while they are extraordinary, (is made for) television. They are all incredibly good at what they do and ridiculously attractive. They still don't fall under the category of 'super.'"
Jeph Loeb -- the writer-producer ("Smallville," "Heroes") who now oversees Marvel Entertainment's home screen efforts -- explains that for a "S.H.I.E.L.D." series, "We wanted to do something that would appeal to our fan base, but by the same token, we wanted something (similar to how) Joss just hit it out of the park with 'Marvel's The Avengers.' That's not a movie for one particular group of people; that's a movie for everybody. 'Iron Man 3' has the same kind of feeling to it," adds Loeb, "so whether or not it's an ABC audience or a Marvel audience or a little bit of this and a little bit of that, our hope is that everyone who is watching television at 8:00 (ET/PT) on Tuesday nights is watching our show."
The husband of "Dirty Dancing" co-star and Season 11 "Dancing With the Stars" winner Jennifer Grey, Gregg -- also known from the sitcom "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and such movies as "(500) Days of Summer" and "In Good Company" -- admits it's been tough to talk about "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." without spilling too much.
The Boston native also is the writer, director and star of this year's "Trust Me," a modestly budgeted independent film that's at the opposite end of the scale from the obvious largesse of "S.H.I.E.L.D."
"When you're working for Marvel, it's very much like working for one of the top-secret branches of the government," Gregg muses. "You're not allowed to tell anyone anything, yet there's this growing army of fans that was already huge to begin with. They grew up with the source material and loved the characters and the mythology, and they've really embraced Coulson.
"He was the only (Marvel movie) character who wasn't in the comic books," says Gregg, "and they kind of embraced him and lobbied for him to not be 'too dead.' And now, he's in the comics, and I've got an action figure. They're as responsible for a resurrection of Agent Coulson as anybody, except Joss."
Gregg notes that he found it "very touching" that both Whedon and Loeb "said the idea from the beginning was 'Let's make a show that's as much about the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as it is about Coulson.' It's just another part of this that's a little hard to believe, but it's such a fun gig."