The primary focus at the Television Critics Association winter press tour is on midseason programming, but plenty of interest is already building for "S.H.I.E.LD," a Marvel Comics superhero saga from Joss Whedon that is still in the pilot stage.
"We fast-tracked it, and we'll see it a lot earlier than the other (shows)," ABC president Paul Lee told reporters Thursday. "We're very hopeful that's going to go to series. ... It's a great script."
"S.H.I.E.L.D." is about a secret intelligence agency that has appeared in various Marvel titles, including "The Avengers." ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Company, which also owns Marvel. Whedon directed the "Avengers" big-screen movie, which was one of the biggest hits of the year.
"How wonderful is it that my boss, Bob Iger, buys Marvel, which has created the biggest franchise of the year with 'Avengers,' and then have ABC be able to use the core talent from that ...," Lee said after his media session.
The ABC chief also pointed out that Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") is very engaged in the project, which stars Ming-Na, and is already working on scripts for a potential series.
"For us to have Joss Whedon not only in the show, but passionate about it, directing and writing, is great," Lee said. "I love to see Joss enjoying television as much as movies. That's flattering for us."
And the tone of the pilot, Lee added, is "very Joss."
"He's able to be intense and epic, and then suddenly funny and silly," Lee said. "He's got that ability to be super entertaining."
Lee acknowledged that superhero adventures don't always do well on the small screen, but he expressed hope that ABC can make "S.H.I.E.L.D." into the same kind of ambitious, emotional and family-friendly series as its Sunday night hit "Once Upon a Time."
"We've done that with fairy tales. Let's see if we can do it with superheroes," he said. " ... I know we're going to have fun at ComicCon."
In the meantime, ABC is interested in developing other Marvel titles.
"We think Marvel is just a huge opportunity for us," Lee said. "You're seeing us as a network doing shows that can really help the wider Walt Disney company. The ABC brand is not the Disney brand, it's not the Pixar brand, and it's not the Marvel brand. But it's really fun in this job to be part of a company that owns so many strong brands and be able to help build and reinvigorate some of those brands."