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TV is a competitive game, and few shows are ever guaranteed a future unless they're breaking ratings records. Once Upon a Time is the latest major network show to get the axe, which isn't all that surprising considering its ratings for Season 7, and the show will have the time to wrap up its story before the end. The biggest impact of Once Upon a Time's cancellation may be on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which airs in the time slot directly after Once Upon a Time on Friday nights.
Neither Once Upon a Time nor S.H.I.E.L.D. aired on Friday nights prior to the beginning of the 2017-2018 TV season. Back in May 2017, ABC Chief Channing Dungey explained that the reason for the two shows switching time slots was because ABC wanted to turn "Friday into more of a destination for our fantasy and science fiction fans." The low ratings and subsequent cancellation of Once Upon a Time could be a sign to ABC that Friday night as a sci-fi/fantasy destination doesn't work the way they wanted.
Now, if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a big ratings winner for ABC, we likely wouldn't need to worry about its future, with or without Once Upon a Time. Unfortunately, the shows have scored very similar numbers throughout the 2017-2018 TV season. In Live+Same day calculations, Once Upon a Time Season 7 averages 2.48 million viewers and a 0.55 rating in the key 18-49 age demographic, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 averages 2.29 million viewers and a 0.60 rating in the 18-49 demo. If Once Upon a Time's ratings were low enough to warrant cancellation and ABC gets the idea that the sci-fi/fantasy destination didn't quite materialize, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could potentially be the next show to get the axe.
That said, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does have the benefit of a Marvel connection. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is only getting bigger with the passage of time, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Marvel's longest-running project on the small screen. In fact, ABC reportedly wanted to cancel S.H.I.E.L.D. after Season 4, but ABC parent company Disney stepped in to save the Marvel property. Perhaps this is a sign that Disney will be more inclined to order another Marvel project to pair with S.H.I.E.L.D. on Fridays than to cancel it after five seasons.
Channing Dungey did indicate earlier this year that ABC wasn't actively working on any more Marvel projects or pilots, but who's to say that won't change? The MCU is going to have a very big year thanks to Black Panther (premiering on February 16) and Avengers: Infinity War (releasing on May 4). Why not keep the buzz going with a new show? Stranger things have happened.
Another possibility is that Marvel's Inhumans will get a reprieve from permanent cancellation to be paired with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ABC notably has not ruled out a second season of the freshman series, although the odds haven't been the best. Inhumans underperformed in the ratings and failed to win a core audience in its brief run back in the fall. Once Upon a Time's cancellation leaves the pre-S.H.I.E.L.D. slot open; would it be so crazy to give Inhumans a second try as a partner to another Marvel show?
Of these three possibilities, my fingers are crossed that S.H.I.E.L.D. either gets a new Marvel pairing or Inhumans is saved from cancellation to air on Friday nights. S.H.I.E.L.D. has tried some new things in Season 5 that have been a lot of fun, and breaking the last couple of seasons up into arcs has allowed S.H.I.E.L.D. to continually reinvent itself. Of course, it's possible that ABC will simply move one of its existing shows into Once Upon a Time's slot, premiere a new show in the soon-to-be-vacant slot, or move S.H.I.E.L.D. to another night without cancelling it. We can only wait, cross our fingers, and find out for ourselves.
Unfortunately, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is currently on a break until the next new episode airs on Friday, March 2 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. Check out our breakdown of the crazy plot twists from the latest episode that could change everything, and don't forget to take a look at our midseason TV premiere guide.