CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

The “Avengers 2” trailer was supposed to save “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Oops.

It seemed like a foolproof plan: The Avengers were going to come to the rescue, just when Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needed them most.

This past Tuesday night, as the ABC superhero drama—the first TV spinoff from the Marvel Universe—hit its lowest US ratings ever (with just 4.36 million tuning in), Marvel announced that the highly-anticipated trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron would premiere during next week’s episode. The fan frenzy started immediately, and Marvel and ABC reasonably assumed that the chance to see the first footage of what is expected to be next summer’s biggest blockbuster would bring back some of the nearly 8 million viewers who have abandoned Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since it first premiered last fall.

Instead, Marvel was thwarted, not by Hydra (the usual troublemaker in the Marvel universe), but by whomever leaked the trailer online.

At first, Marvel tried to have a sense of humor about it.

An hour and a half later, as the leaked footage went viral and the internet started raving about it, Marvel surrendered and released the official trailer online.

The leak eliminated what might have been Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s last, best hope to win back at least part of its initial audience. Because once viewers check out of a show—as they did during the show’s rocky first season—they rarely return to give it a second chance. While ABC was never going to convince Avengers stars Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans to guest-star, the trailer debut of the Avengers sequel offered the next best thing, and something that fans have waited more than a year to see: a special appearance by the Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, Thor and Hawkeye) during the hour that the show airs. So what if it wasn’t during the actual episode itself?

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., despite its ratings troubles, has been on a creative high, so it also lost its best chance of the season to show former viewers, and Marvel fans, just how much the show has improved since last year. The official Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer will likely have been streamed millions of times by next Tuesday’s episode, leaving fans with little incentive to tune in to the episode just to watch it again. “See the Avengers trailer for the 96th time!” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

That said, the trailer is phenomenal, and May 1, 2015 (the day that Avengers: Age of Ultron opens) can’t get here fast enough. But now the question has shifted from “Is the new Avengers film going to be any good?” (answer, based on the trailer: heck yes!) to “Will Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. still be around by the time the movie opens?”

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