LOS ANGELES — The tail section of the "S.H.I.E.L.D." flying headquarters know as "The Bus" is open, making it easy to see the stealth-black vehicle and the red sports car stored inside. Normally, this view is under extreme security, but the flying fortress has been opened to press with Level 7 clearance.
Wide-open access is necessary because the team behind "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." needs some help. The new ABC series opened like the Hulk smashing through a screen door, but its ratings have gone all Ant Man since, shrinking to low levels. The chief complaint: The first 10 episodes were too slow and failed to draw in other characters from the massive Marvel universe.
That's about to change.
Jeph Loeb, head of television for Marvel, promises the remaining 12 episodes of the season, which begin airing tonight, will springboard off elements set up in the first half of the season to introduce new characters, crank up the action and build more connections between the TV series and the Marvel movie universe.
"We wanted people to fall in love with those characters, join us on this incredible adventure, which is what we set out to do from the beginning," Loeb says. "We think of the first 10 episodes as being like the first hour of a movie." He adds: "The part where you are getting to know everybody."
SHOW INFO: "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." 8 p.m. Tuesday on ABC30 (KFSN, Channel 30.1)
The team behind the series was looking at 22 hours of programming -- compared to a two-hour movie -- to introduce some characters.
"We had a very unique challenge. We live within the Marvel cinematic universe," Loeb says. "Those movies, we all love, have the giant tent pole of Iron Man, Hulk and Captain America."
"We started with Clark Gregg, who had been in the movies, but we were introducing five new characters," Loeb adds. "They are not only new to you if you haven't watched Marvel movies. They don't even exist in the comic books."
The only character that fans knew was Gregg's Agent Coulson, the head of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. The cast also includes Chloe Bennet, Brett Dalton, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge and Ming-Na Wen.
Wen hopes viewers will have a little patience.
"There's a big difference between a movie -- where you have a beginning, middle and end in two hours -- versus a TV series where it's 22 episodes. Hopefully, it will go on for several years of telling the mythology of the Marvel world," Wen says. "This is not a movie. You're not going to get in one episode how every character is going to interact. All I can say is, enjoy this ride."
The first 10 episodes looked like stand-alone stories. As the second half unfolds, it will become clear that parts from the first 10 shows set up the action to come.
There are also new characters, including the cyborg Deathlok and Thor's battling buddy, Lady Sif. That role will be reprised by Jaimie Alexander, who played the character in both of the "Thor" feature films.
There also will be a surprise cameo by a familiar face to anyone who has seen a Marvel movie, which will link the TV shows with the popular film franchises.
A slow start might not have been as big a deal a few years ago. "S.H.I.E.L.D." executive producer Jeff Bell has seen a real change in the impatience of viewers.
"After episode five, people were saying that we still haven't told them what happened to Coulson. When I was on 'The X-Files' it took seven years for us to say where Mulder's sister had gone," Bell says. "Now, by episode six, fans are going, 'This is (expletive).' "
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.