Why Agent Carter was cancelled (why season 3 didn't happen)

We all know Agent Carter's value, so why was the ABC Marvel show cancelled so soon into its run?
MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER – “Bridge and Tunnel” – Howard Stark’s deadliest weapon has fallen into enemy hands, and only Agent Carter can recover it. But can she do so before her undercover mission is discovered by SSR Chief Dooley and Agent Thompson? “Marvel’s Agent Carter” airs TUESDAY, JANUARY 6 (9:00-10:00 p.m., ET), on ABC. (ABC/Michael Desmond)
MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER – “Bridge and Tunnel” – Howard Stark’s deadliest weapon has fallen into enemy hands, and only Agent Carter can recover it. But can she do so before her undercover mission is discovered by SSR Chief Dooley and Agent Thompson? “Marvel’s Agent Carter” airs TUESDAY, JANUARY 6 (9:00-10:00 p.m., ET), on ABC. (ABC/Michael Desmond) HAYLEY ATWELL /

The Marvel Cinematic Universe was on its way to the height of its popularity in the mid 2010s - so much so that there were multiple TV offshoots greenlit. One was Agent Carter; a period piece starring Captain America: The First Avenger's Hayley Atwell, who reprised her role as the title character in an acclaimed eight-episode first season. It was subsequently renewed for a second season, which ventured into uncharted territory, exploring some of the more supernatural elements of the MCU.

Unfortunately, Agent Carter's run was cut short when it was cancelled by ABC on May 12, 2016, ending its brief run at just 18 episodes. Fans have spent years campaigning for a third season (it certainly deserved it) as they never understood why it was cancelled. It's hard to blame them, but if you feel the same way, here is some of the reasoning behind the decision-making here.

Agent Carter's ratings declined in season 2

Agent Carter began its run on ABC with impressive ratings as its pilot episode was watched by almost 7 million viewers. The first season maintained an average of around 5 million viewers, but that unfortunately fell significantly in season 2, with most episodes being watched by between 2 - 3 million viewers. This ultimately led ABC to cancel the show after just two seasons.

Those numbers aren't bad at all (and certainly not by today's standards) but the show was expensive to produce given that it was a period piece, so that was likely factored into the decision. The unfortunate thing was that it seems the creatives behind the show weren't involved in the conversations about its future, with executive producer Jeph Loeb revealing that they simply found out about its cancellation via a phone call from the network.

Agent Carter, Agent Carter season 3
MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER – “Pilot” – It’s 1946 and peace has dealt Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), a serious blow as she finds herself marginalized when the men return home from fighting abroad. Working for the covert SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve), Peggy finds herself stuck doing administrative work when she would rather be back out in the field, putting her vast skills into play and taking down the bad guys. But she is also trying to navigate life as a single woman in America, in the wake /

Hayley Atwell believed the show's cancellation was "a network political thing", telling IGN that ABC wanted her to headline a more "mainstream" drama like Conviction to "get their ratings up". She went on to star in that show, but the legal drama lasted just one season before it was cancelled, bringing in lower general viewership than Agent Carter did.

There was a huge online campaign to save the show, and it even got the attention of Netflix's chief content officer Ted Sarandos. The streamer at the time had been working with Marvel on The Defenders saga, which included the highly successful Daredevil and Jessica Jones series, but it unfortunately passed on picking the show up for a third season due to the "complexities" of international broadcasting deals that were in place at the time, which would have prevented Netflix from streaming the show globally. That has become less of an issue for the streamer in the years since, as it has saved US network shows like Lucifer and Manifest in spite of them having broadcast deals internationally which prevented earlier seasons from streaming in all locations.

Atwell continued to voice her support for the character and the fan campaign, revealing that she would "love to see" Peggy appear in more movies:

"...the fact that we know that she lives until the age of 96 means that technically I could be employed for the rest of my life"

Hayley Atwell

The good news is that she did get the chance to put those hopes into action, resurfacing as the character on the big-screen over the years in various MCU movies.

Agent Carter's cancellation wasn't the last we saw of Peggy

While Agent Carter may have been cut short before its time, Hayley Atwell would continue to play a role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, recurring as and when Peggy Carter was needed. Prior to the show's cancellation, she had already appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man, but the character would still have a presence after that.

Peggy died off-screen during Captain America: Civil War but that wouldn't be the last we saw of her, either. She made a cameo appearance in Avengers: Endgame when Steve Rogers travelled back to the 1970s and saw her during her tenure as Director of SHIELD. A younger version of her appeared in the movie's concluding scene as Steve travelled back in time again to live out the rest of his life with her. The two of them were happy, finally having that dance, and preparing for a life of wedded bliss. It's what they deserve.

Captain Carter, Agent Carter
Captain Carter (center) and the Howling Commandos in Marvel Studios' WHAT IF...? exclusively on Disney+. © Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved. /

Peggy got her happily ever after after all, but the Multiverse Saga has since introduced us to alternate versions of her. The most significant of those was in the animated series What If...?, which introduced us to Captain Carter - a version of Peggy who took the super soldier serum when Steve was injured. Hayley Atwell returned to the voice the character while also voicing alternate versions of Peggy throughout the series too.

Atwell reappeared in the live-action movies in 2022's Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness as a different version of Captain Carter, who was a member of The Illuminati and an adversary of the Scarlet Witch.

Even though Agent Carter deserved a much longer run, it's been great to see Hayley Atwell resurface again and again as the character (or her many variants) in the years since. The only thing better is knowing that our Peggy got the happy ending with Steve that she had been longing for.

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