Exclusive Interview: Marvel’s Agent Carter Series Producers Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas

At the ABC party for the Television Critics Association, I got to sit down with Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, who are producing “Marvel’s Agent Carter” for Marvel Entertainment. Hayley Atwell will return as Peggy Carter in the eight-episode series set after Captain America: The First Avenger but long before “The Winter Soldier” or “Avengers” movies.

Fazekas and Butters are already working for ABC on “Resurrection,” which will return for a second season as well. While I had to assure them I knew how to tread lightly in Marvel territory, it was interesting to learn details about just how secure Marvel actually is!

SuperHeroHype: Did this show come out of the Marvel One-Shots?

Tara Butters: Yes.

Michele Fazekas: Our understanding was that Bob Iger saw it, and much like “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” the year prior which also came from the DVD short Item 47, “Agent Carter” was off of the short on the Iron Man 3 DVD.

SHH: How much did you inherit from the One-Shot and Captain America: The First Avenger?

Butters: Okay, I’m going to preface it that we have to be very careful what we say regarding Marvel. They like a lot of secrecy, okay?

SHH: Yes, I know and I hope I can think of questions that you can actually answer.

Fazekas: I will say, the nice thing about “Agent Carter” being set in the ‘40s is it predates a lot of the Marvel universe. As you know, the guys who wrote “Captain America” 1, 2 and are now writing 3, wrote the pilot. So they know that universe very well. So I don’t feel like we’re hamstrung by anything. I think there’s a lot of room to play and a lot of room to be creative with the story.

Butters: And also, it allows us, the movies were such a wonderful set up for the series. There is definitely something to draw on from “Captain America” 1 and 2, and hopefully that there are characters and people that are set up there that we’ll hopefully see in our universe. I think that she’s such a wonderful character. She’s strong, she’s independent, but she’s in a world where, after the war, strong and independent woman isn’t what people want. So I think there’s a fun emotional story that we get to play with in the series.

SHH: Have you by any chance been given a range of dates, like you’re golden between 1944 and 1954, but don’t go past this particular year?

Fazekas: We do have parameters.

Butters: We’re starting after the war.

Fazekas: There is an end point to the series. That’s all I can say.

SHH: Don’t ever feel bad saying that’s all you can say. We’ve been covering Marvel a long time.

Fazekas: Okay. It’s going to be really fun. The pilot that they wrote is great. Hayley is wonderful and really excited, so we can’t wait to get started. It’s going to be really fun.

SHH: Is Marvel building a television apparatus like they have for their films?

Fazekas: They already have one. They have a whole television arm.

SHH: So it’s in place from “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” for showrunners like yourself to rely on?

Fazekas: They have the television arm. They have the Netflix series as well so they’re rapidly building quite a stable.

SHH: Is anyone else besides Hayley confirmed?

Fazekas: We’ve hired our writing staff. Markus and McFeely, who wrote the pilot, will be on the show as much as they can be. They’ll be working on Captain America 3 as well so we’ll take them as much as we can get ‘em. They’re great guys. We have a great writing staff that we’ve worked with before on different shows, people that we never worked with before. Chris Dingess, who’s another executive producer who we worked with on “Reaper,” but directors and actors, we’re still in the process of making those deals.

SHH: We would like to see Neal McDonough on the show.

Butters: Me too, I love Neal. I just watched Cap 1 again and he stands out so much in that. He actually doesn’t have that much screen time. He really is such a great character.

SHH: Do you feel like midseason is the right time to launch “Agent Carter”?

Butters: I actually think it’s fantastic. We had such a wonderful experience with “Resurrection” being eight episodes midseason. I just feel like it allows us to have a very concise storytelling.

SHH: And you’re only doing eight “Agent Carters” too?

Fazekas: Because what they’ll do is they’ll air “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” they’ll air “Agent Carter,” and then they’ll air the rest of “S.H.I.E.L.D.” We’re considered gap programming.

SHH: So there will never be “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Agent Carter” concurrently?

Fazekas: No.

Butters: We’ll take over their time slot.

SHH: Did the title have to have “Agent” in it?

Fazekas: No.

Butters: It just works. It’s just so clear what the show is about. It’s a wonderful way we also try to differentiate ourselves from “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” We’re coming at it from the other way. It’ll have a different feel.

SHH: Because it’s a period piece, are the chances of movie crossovers less likely? Also there isn’t a Marvel movie out before the last time you’ll air.

Butters: Yeah, there’s no movie that will be premiering before us that I know of that will be in the Marvel universe, other than Guardians of the Galaxy.

Fazekas: But I will say, Marvel is very much about synergy and synergy between their properties. We know a lot of the writers on “S.H.I.E.L.D.” because we worked with them on other shows. We know Jeff Bell, we know Paul Z. We know Maurissa and Jed. We worked on “Dollhouse” with them. So I think if there’s room for synergy, if there’s room for little things between the shows, I think everybody’s open to that. If we can find it and it makes sense, it’s organic and it doesn’t just look like a gimmick.

SHH: There hasn’t been a female headlined Marvel movie yet. Do you think TV is the right place for the first Marvel female headliner?

Fazekas: Oh, I think ABC is the right place too. It’s interesting, when we were talking to people about the show and hiring, I remember talking to an editor and he was so excited for his young daughters to see [it]. She’s essentially a superhero, even though she doesn’t have powers. She’s a regular person, but it is sort of a way to tell a female superhero story. So I’m very excited about that. I think ABC is the perfect place for that.

Butters: If you look at how well “Alias” did for them for so long, they’ve always had a strong connection with female driven shows. I think that’s a very smart way for them to continue within the Marvel universe.

SHH: Are you in the process of binging on classic Marvel comic books?

Butters: Oh yeah, I just finished “Winter Soldier” by Ed Brubaker.

Fazekas: All the “Captain America” movies came from the Ed Brubaker universe of comics. So it’s binging on those, it’s binging on all the Marvel movies. Iron Man, The Avengers, all the “Captain Americas.” Even if we don’t ever directly touch on it, it’s just good to have in your head.

SHH: When Marvel provides research materials, do they give you originals or is it the reprints/trade paperbacks?

Butters: Oh, I’ve been reading on ComiXology. I download them.

Fazekas: And I borrow a giant omnibus of the Ed Brubaker Captain Americas.

SHH: Are you going to be producing “Resurrection” and “Agent Carter” at the same time?

Butters: We’ll be doing both at the same time. Right now we are actually in prep on the first episode of “Resurrection.” “Agent Carter” won’t start until August.

Fazekas: They staggered the start dates which helps to get “Resurrection” up and going and then we can shift our focus. The nice thing is there’s two of us so we can split up. There’s great upper level producers on both shows that can be there when we’re not there. It’ll be a challenge but creatively it’s very attractive. I’ve never done it before, but “Resurrection” is such a specific tone, and then doing a comic book based series is really interesting to bounce back and forth creatively. It keeps you fresh in a way, because you’re constantly thinking in a different way. The nice thing is because “Carter” is only eight, it’s a very manageable number and we’ve already discussed the spine of those eight episodes, so hopefully it’s not going to be ridiculous.

SHH: Where are you shooting “Agent Carter?”

Fazekas: L.A.

SHH: What can you tell us about season two of “Resurrection?”

Butters: You know, if the first eight episodes were setting up this amazing event and getting people to understand and accept it, moving forward in season two, it’s people settling into the new reality. What does that mean? It was just so reactionary in the first eight. Now there’s a new world order within this town. We still focus on the town of Arcadis.

Fazekas: That’s the thing. We don’t ever want to make it bigger than the stories that we told in the first season which were the emotional stories about the people in this town and about Omar Epps’ character and the boy, so you want to be really careful not to make it so vague that it’s like this worldwide conspiracy. Even if eventually seasons and life does happen outside of Arcadia, which I’m not saying it does but it’s on the table, we will will always be telling these emotional, personal stories of how it affects the people that we love on the show.

SHH: Has working with Marvel been good practice for keeping secrets on your other shows?

Butters: [Laughs]

Fazekas: It is a whole new level of secrets.

Butters: The hard part of “Resurrection” is it is a continuing storyline show. The next season will have a new character who will have a huge affect on the Langston family.

Fazekas: I will say on “Resurrection,” I wish we had the level of security that Marvel has, because we had a problem for a while where people were coming into our building to use our bathroom. We were like, ‘We need keycards’ because Marvel has keycards for everything. We’re like, ‘I think we need that because people are using our bathroom and they can read our board.’ It does make me appreciate that.