BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The fall TV season is short on series that will make viewers sit up, take notice and return eagerly for episode two, but ABC's "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD" (8 p.m. Sept. 24), based on "The Avengers" and from the same writer/director, Joss Whedon, may be the closest modern TV gets to a sure thing.
The one-hour drama brings back "Avengers" character Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, "The New Adventures of Old Christine"), who appeared to die in the film. The series is set just after the battle of New York in "The Avengers" when the existence of superheroes and aliens first became public knowledge. Coulson assembles agents from the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division, including combat and espionage expert Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), pilot and martial artist Melinda May (former Pittsburgher Ming-Na Wen, "ER"), engineer Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker, "The Fades") and bio-chemist Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). In the premiere episode, one of the most entertaining fall pilots, Coulson also recruits computer hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet, "Nashville").
Unlike in "The Avengers," the "Agents of SHIELD" characters are not superheroes; they're just well-trained human agents who work unclassified cases.
Mr. Whedon's brother, Jed ("Spartacus"), will executive produce along with Jeph Loeb ("Heroes"), Jeffrey Bell ("V," "Harper's Island") and Maurissa Tancharoen ("Dollhouse") while Mr. Whedon works on "Avengers 2."
"I'll do as much as an executive producer can do who is also making a movie," Mr. Whedon said. He described "Agents of SHIELD" as a show that could have tie-ins to upcoming Marvel superhero movies, including November's "Thor" sequel. "There will be as much as we can allow. We're still working that out. It's a fluid process. The important thing is it's a fun opportunity but it's not the reason behind the show.
"We don't want to be an Easter Egg farm. We want people to come back because of these people," he said, gesturing at the cast. "The show has to work for people who won't see those movies and haven't seen them before."
Ms. Wen, a graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School who went on to earn a degree in theater from Carnegie Mellon University, plays a ninja, and she's been working out to prepare for her fights scenes.
"Aside from being proud of my belly when I was pregnant with my kid, I am so proud to show off these guns," she said, flexing her biceps. "It's wonderful to be put to task and having to raise the bar and work out and do the training to really carry this character off. I think I'm gonna be in the best shape of my life because I don't normally like to work out at all. ... But I do like kicking [butt]."
In addition to Ms. Wen, "SHIELD" will also feature Pittsburgher David Conrad in a recurring role that producers refused to discuss.
'AHS' gets witchy
FX's "American Horror Story" returns for its third season in October as "AHS: Coven." Kathy Bates joins the cast for this season's witchy tale, which also features the return of Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson, who were in the first two seasons and again play new characters in season three.
The third season, which will also star actress Angela Bassett, is currently filming in New Orleans.
"I would say the fun quotient is higher this year," executive producer Tim Minear said. "This year is a drama but there is a lot of humor and we are embracing a kind of velocity and fun with the series this year. It's not the same as the last two years but I think it could be more welcoming to the audience."
Mr. Minear said this year the show's bigger themes will include oppression of minorities of all kinds, the idea of minority groups going after each other and feminism. There's also a strong theme of family, specifically mothers and daughters.
Ms. Lange will play Fiona, who is the mother of Ms. Paulson's Cordelia. Ms. Bates and Ms. Bassett will take on the roles of real-life characters, Madame LaLaurie and Marie Laveau, respectively.
Bates slams NBC
Ms. Bates was last seen in a regular TV role on NBC's "Harry's Law," which was canceled after two seasons of decent overall ratings but low demographic ratings. She's still a bit steamed about that and perhaps reveling a bit in NBC's ratings woes.
"I think they treated us like [expletive]," Ms. Bates said. "They kicked us to the curb. I think they disrespected us. I think they disrespected our 7-to-11 million viewers every week. And I think they're getting what they deserve. Thank you."
Ms. Bates said producers' pitch for "Coven" made her eager to work in TV again.
"It just got me so excited that it washed most of the crap away," she said. "Clearly, there's some residue. But it's delightful I wasn't going to say anything about it, but anyway, who cares? -- to be among such a glorious group of actors and have such magnificent material to play. And I don't know. I'm going to go on the record and say we're going to knock your socks off."
TCA Awards winners
The 2013 Television Critics Association Awards were handed out in a ceremony Saturday night at The Beverly Hilton, which is also home to the Golden Globes. For full coverage and photos, visit the Tuned In Journal blog at http://communityvoices.post-gazette.com/arts-entertainment-living/tuned-in. Here's a list of winners:
Individual Achievement in Drama: Tatiana Maslany ("Orphan Black," BBC America).
Individual Achievement in Comedy: Louis C.K. ("Louie," FX).
Outstanding Achievement in News and Information: "The Central Park Five" (PBS).
Outstanding Achievement in Reality Programming: "Shark Tank" (ABC).
Outstanding Achievement in Youth Programming: "Bunheads" (ABC Family).
Outstanding New Program: "The Americans" (FX).
Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials: "Behind the Candelabra" (HBO).
Outstanding Achievement in Drama: "Game of Thrones" (HBO).
Outstanding Achievement in Comedy: (Tie) "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS) and "Parks and Recreation" (NBC).
Career Achievement Award: Barbara Walters (ABC).
Heritage Award: "All in the Family" (CBS).
Program of the Year: "Breaking Bad" (AMC).
Actor Peter Capaldi ("The Thick of It"), who previously appeared in a 2008 "Doctor Who" episode as Caecilius, was named the new Doctor on Sunday. He'll first appear in a "Doctor Who" Christmas episode airing on BBC America later this year. ... Seth Rogen will host "Comedy Central's Roast of James Franco" (10 p.m. Sept. 2). ... A month after Discovery's "Shark Week," ABC will air "Shark Tank" Week with reruns of the show's stars' favorite episodes at 8 p.m. Sept. 8-12 and 9 p.m. Sept. 13 in advance of the season premiere at 9 p.m. Sept. 20.
on the web
Read more coverage from the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv.tvradio
A portion of this column originally appeared online in the Tuned In Journal blog. Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or on Facebook. You can reach Rob at 412-263-2582 or firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published August 5, 2013 4:00 AM