Brett Dalton as Grant Ward, Elizabeth Henstridge as Agent Jemma Simmons, Iain De Caestecker as Agent Leo Fitz, Ming-Na Wen as Agent Melinda May, Chloe Bennet as Agent Daisy Johnson, Clark Gregg as Director Phil Coulson, Nick Blood as Agent Lance Hunter, Adrianne Palicki as Agent Bobbi Morse, Henry Simmons as Agent Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie and Luke Mitchell as Lincoln Campbell in MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 7 | ©2020 ABC/Kurt Iswarienkio

Brett Dalton as Grant Ward, Elizabeth Henstridge as Agent Jemma Simmons, Iain De Caestecker as Agent Leo Fitz, Ming-Na Wen as Agent Melinda May, Chloe Bennet as Agent Daisy Johnson, Clark Gregg as Director Phil Coulson, Nick Blood as Agent Lance Hunter, Adrianne Palicki as Agent Bobbi Morse, Henry Simmons as Agent Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie and Luke Mitchell as Lincoln Campbell in MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 7 | ©2020 ABC/Kurt Iswarienkio

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD is now in its seventh and final season, Wednesday nights on ABC. The series seemed to have wrapped up conclusively at the end of Season 5, then got renewed for two more seasons. The result was that AGENTS OF SHIELD Seasons 6 and 7 were produced almost back to back, so that production on the show actually ended last summer, even though we’re only getting the ultimate run now.

Drew Z. Greenberg joined AGENTS OF SHIELD in Season 2 as a writer/co-executive producer, and became an executive producer beginning with Season 6. Greenberg’s first staff writing job was on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER for Joss Whedon, who co-created AGENTS OF SHIELD with Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen.

Greenberg, originally from New York, subsequently worked as a writer/producer on SMALLVILLE, THE O.C., INCONCEIVABLE, DEXTER, CAPRICA, WAREHOUSE 13STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, and ARROW. Additionally, Greenberg wrote an episode of Joss Whedon’s FIREFLY.

Greenberg wrote Episode 9 of AGENTS OF SHIELD Season 7, “As I Have Always Been,” which airs Wednesday, July 22. This marks the directorial debut of series regular Elizabeth Henstridge, who plays British scientist Jemma Simmons.

Elizabeth Henstridge in MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 7 - "As I Have Always Been" | ©2020 ABC/Mitch Haaseth

Elizabeth Henstridge in MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 7 – “As I Have Always Been” | ©2020 ABC/Mitch Haaseth

As faithful AGENTS OF SHIELD viewers know, our heroes are currently in the midst of a time-travel crisis. It started with SHIELD trying to prevent the Chronicoms, a race of sentient artificial life forms, from hijacking Earth’s history and chasing them from the ‘30s to the ‘50s to the ‘70s. In the ‘80s, the time drive on the SHIELD craft begins malfunctioning.

Additionally, former SHIELD director/now Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who died in the first AVENGERS movie, was resurrected at the beginning of AGENTS OF SHIELD, died at the end of Season 5 (when the writers thought the show was over), and re-appeared – sort of – as a hostile entity from another dimension known as Sarge, is now back as an LMD android with all of Coulson’s memories and mannerisms.

Greenberg talks about all this and more in an exclusive phone interview.

ASSIGNMENT X: Prior to working on MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD, were you a Marvel person, or a DC person? Because you also worked on ARROW, which is DC, so …

DREW Z. GREENBERG: Right. I was a GOLDEN GIRLS person. I have no loyalty one way or the other. I like comic books. I remember talking about this with Joss, when he was interviewing me, way back, when he was thinking about hiring me on BUFFY. I was like, “Dude, I love your show. I don’t really know comic books.” He goes, “That’s okay. You will.” And by the time I got out of BUFFY, of course, I had a little bit more familiarity with comic books than I had before, but I really wasn’t a comic book person. I was a TV person for sure. I loved all things TV. But I was not a comic book aficionado.

AX: Did you wind up writing genre television because you started on BUFFY? If you hadn’t gotten that, might you have just gone on and wound up on, say, THE AMERICANS?

GREENBERG: I’m very proud to say that Joss gave me my first staff writing job. And I could not have had a better first gig than BUFFY. I did a freelance episode of QUEER AS FOLK before that, but that was just freelance, and wasn’t really part of the show. So my first job on staff was BUFFY, and while I was on BUFFY, I did an episode of FIREFLY, and then SMALLVILLE, and then THE O.C. came after SMALLVILLE.

AX: So you did genre, and then not-genre, and then went back to genre. Was that a desire to be in the genre, or was that just how the jobs shook out?

GREENBERG: I have two answers to that. One is that you go where the jobs are, and also, I took jobs on shows that I liked. I thought the first season of THE O.C. was amazing, and when that offer came along, I said, “I don’t care what format the show is. I think it’s funny, and I think it’s smart, and I want to be a part of it.” So to me, the defining feature was the good writing. And so I grabbed it when I had a chance.

The second answer that I have is that I always feel very comfortable writing genre, just because I like getting to play with the imagination a little bit, I like getting to stretch the boundaries of what’s real, and I also really like that old STAR TREK tradition of allowing the fantastical to be a metaphor for what’s happening in our real lives. I think it’s so interesting to be able to comment on what’s happening in our world, without making it so on the nose, and letting the audience being able to connect some of the dots themselves. I have so much fun with genre because of that. And also, I love writing monsters and vampires. But it gives me a certain amount of satisfaction to be able to utilize that thing about genre, where the metaphor can be something really insightful. I really enjoy that.

Joel Stoffer in MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 7 - "As I Have Always Been" | ©2020 ABC/Mitch Haaseth

Joel Stoffer in MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 7 – “As I Have Always Been” | ©2020 ABC/Mitch Haaseth

AX: What is the difference between being part of the writing staff and one of the executive producers?

GREENBERG: Generally speaking, when it comes to writers, it means a little bit more responsibility, it means slightly longer hours, maybe. But you are still a member of the writing staff, and you are still writing episodes. I will say there are some executive producers who aren’t writers. So there’s a little grain of salt with that. But if you are a writer, writers are generally given titles based on their longevity. So there’s a ladder that starts as staff writer, and then story editor, executive story editor, co-producer, producer, supervising producer, co-executive producer, and executive producer. Whatever title you have, it’s usually just an indication of how long you’ve been around without somebody kicking you out of town. I have not been run out of town yet, and therefore I got the executive producer credit. So it was that, mostly.

AX: What are the additional responsibilities that come with being an EP?

GREENBERG: It can vary from show to show. On some shows, it’s about doing a read on scripts that are coming in, and offering notes and suggestions. On some shows, it’s about being an on-set presence, and being the voice of the writers’ room on set. On some shows, it’s about having a presence in post-production. It really does depend on whatever show you happen to be working on. It can be different for each one. I like AGENTS OF SHIELD a lot. I like the way that [show runners/fellow exec producers] Jeff Bell and Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen set things up, because they allow every writer to go through the entire process as a producer, from scripting all the way through to post-production. So we are part of the process as a producer on our own episodes.

Elizabeth Henstridge directs her first episode of MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 7 - "As I Have Always Been" | ©2020 ABC/Mitch Haaseth

Elizabeth Henstridge directs her first episode of MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 7 – “As I Have Always Been” | ©2020 ABC/Mitch Haaseth

Sometimes the executive producer will take on some of those additional responsibilities with other people’s episodes, too, to help out, but the environment on AGENTS OF SHIELD was such that the writers were providing the resource of the writers’ room at every step along the way. And it’s so important, because in TV, a director is generally a hired gun, and they come in, and they do the amazing work that they do, but it’s the writer who’s there on staff. And so we know what the story has been and, even more importantly sometimes, what the story will be. So we can be a resource to the other departments if they have questions about how to shoot something, or how to cut something, or how to say a line, or whatever it is. We get to say, “Oh, well, you want it to reflect this thing that’s coming up, or you don’t want to contradict this thing that we already said.” So the writer is the person who can be that resource for other people, and that’s the role that we play generally. That’s a very long way of saying, I’ve been on shows where the writers are never on set, and I’ve been on shows where the writer is always on set. So it really does vary.

AX: You’re saying with AGENTS OF SHIELD, they encourage you to be there and be part of the process all the way through …

GREENBERG: Yes. Which, by the way, was also Joss’s methodology as well. Joss was very interested in making sure that the writers produced their episodes, and so they got to see every step along the way, which is something that I really appreciated when I was just starting out.

AX: Speaking of when you were just starting out, your office in the BUFFY writers’ suite had action figures in their original packaging all over the walls. Is this still a feature of your office?

GREENBERG: It’s not right now. What I did have in my office – we wrapped up last July, so there’s nothing anymore – but I did have on my desk the photo that Joss took of my in my office with all the action figures on the wall behind me, which I love. So I carried it with me wherever I went. But I have a lot of action figures, and eventually I got tired of putting them up and taking them down again. I’m a lot older now than I was then.

AX: We’re all a lot older than we were even just this past March …

GREENBERG: No kidding. So I just carry the photo with me wherever I go now, and my walls are generally pretty bare.

AX: AGENTS OF SHIELD Season 5 had quite a conclusive wrap-up, because everybody involved seemed to think that was going to be the end. So when you got picked up for two more seasons, was everybody going, “Yay, we have two more seasons,” or, “What the hell do we do now?”

GREENBERG: A little of both. We were all very excited to get to keep working on the show, and with each other, and it is hands-down one of the happiest jobs I’ve ever had. And so the first response was, “Yay! We get to keep working with these people on this show.” And maybe it was a minute later we were like, “Right. How do we write ourselves out of that box?” But we did find a way to do it.

Clarg Gregg in MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 7 -"The New Deal" | ©2020 ABC/Mitch Haaseth

Clarg Gregg in MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 7 -“The New Deal” | ©2020 ABC/Mitch Haaseth

AX: Did you break the arcs for both seasons at once, or did you do Season 6 and go, “Okay, now we’ll look at Season 7?”

GREENBERG: If I recall correctly, we were focusing on Season 6 at first, with an eye toward what Season 7 could be, but in terms of breaking the details of the arcs, we certainly took it one season at a time. So it was 6 first. Again, with an eye toward, “What can we do to follow it up?” But we took it one at a time.

AX: How much of the annual writers’ room discussion was, “Okay, how do we keep Clark Gregg on the show, since his character died at the end of Season 5, he came back as a different character at the end of Season 6, and then that character was evil and died?”

GREENBERG: I can’t remember who it was, but somebody had said before in an interview, you really don’t have the show without Clark. He is the center and the heart and soul of it all. So sure. It was not like, “Ugh, now we have this chore,” it’s like, “Okay, what’s the next iteration for us? What’s the next turn that allows us to tell Coulson’s next chapter? Even if Coulson’s not there to observe it, how do we continue the story of Coulson?” Each of the two versions of him that have come since his character’s death, I think, have reflected a different chapter of the presence that Coulson left behind.

I think Season 6 was a lot more about the echo that his absence left on the rest of the characters, and Sarge sort of represented that longing to have him back. And I think Season 7 is a lot more about the fun of Coulson, and what Coulson represents in terms of S.H.I.E.L.D. history, and affection for the history of everything that came before, and his enjoyment of his adventures that his team gets into, the team that he created. And so I think you get to look at a couple of different aspects of what that character meant to the audience, and to the other characters on the show, with each of those seasons, in a very different way.

AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 7 Key Art | ©2020 ABC

AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 7 Key Art | ©2020 ABC

AX: Apart from Coulson, were you familiar with any of the Marvel characters who became part of AGENTS OF SHIELD?

GREENBERG: I sort of keep my head in the world of the TV show. It helps especially so that I don’t get distracted by other AGENTS OF SHIELD influences. That way, I can sort of stay in the world of the show. But all the characters were invented for the show, except Coulson and Daisy Johnson/Quake [played by Chloe Bennet]. You might recall that when the show started, she was not Daisy, she was Skye. The plan was always to evolve her into Quake. When she started, she was a character invented for the show, and it was revealed that she had been Daisy all along.

Related: MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD: Chloe Bennet, Clark Gregg and Elizabeth Henstridge give the scoop on Season 6

Related: Exclusive Interview: J. August Richards GIANTS, playing Deathlok on AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. and more – Part 2

Related:  PATTON OSWALT INTERVIEW on MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., Comedy Special, A.P. BIO and more

Related: MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD: Chloe Bennet and Jeff Ward chat Season 5 of the ABC Marvel Universe series

Related: MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD: Clark Gregg gives the low down on Season 5 – exclusive interview

Related: MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD: Actor Henry Simmons talks traveling to the future – exclusive interview

Related: AGENTS OF SHIELD: Co-creators Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon talk Season 4

Related: AGENTS OF SHIELD: Actors Iain De Caestecker & John Hannah on Season 4 – exclusive interview

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Article: MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD Exclusive Interview with writer/executive producer Drew Z. Greenberg – Part 1


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