Monday, April 23, 2007

How 'Heroes' can save itself

For those wondering, I haven't seen last night's "Amazing Race," and based on what little I know about it, may not bother. Meanwhile, today's non-"Sopranos" column looks at the return of "Heroes" -- specifically, some suggestions on how the producers might minimize the inevitable sophomore slump:
On TV, what goes up will inevitably come crashing down, even if it's a show whose star can fly.

It's a fact of life that this year's watercooler phenomenon will become next year's shark-jumper, that what seemed novel and exciting will come to feel predictable. As I often say, being a fan of a TV show is like being in a relationship, and that thing your girlfriend does while she's eating that seemed cute on your second date will start driving you bonkers after you've been together for a year or so. We forgive a lot more when the romance is new and fresh than when we've been together so long that we can complete each other's sentences.

It always happens, whether the show is an all-time classic ("The Sopranos"), an obvious flash-in-the-pan ("Ally McBeal") or something in between ("Desperate Housewives"). And I have no doubt it's going to happen to this season's biggest hit, NBC's "Heroes," which tonight begins its final stretch of original episodes for its first season.
To read the full thing, click here. I'll have a full post on tonight's episode hopefully ready to go by the time it's done airing.


K J Gillenwater said...

Well, I hope you don't mind, but I saw TAR last night. Too bad you didn't watch, Alan. You would have been able to see the blondes in full bitch mode. They were nasty and mean without needing to be. Charla & Mirna might have their problems, but they proved themselves to be much nicer than the other all-girl team.

On "Heroes," do we really need be worrying about the 2nd season already before the 1st is already over? Kinda jumping the gun, in my opinion. I will decide next season when I see the first few episodes.

BF said...

"Nasty and Mean" how? By trying to knock out one of their competitors during a race? Oh the Horror!!! Compare Eric & Danny's non-stop bitchfest over being Yielded vs. the BQ's non-complaining (by race standards) after losing a 6 hour lead with the charter/Intersection combo. For the last time, the Yield isn't cheating any more than taking the Fast Forward is.

If you want nasty and mean, check out Eric wearing the picture of Danny & Oswald on his ... uh ... buttocks.

PS: Why is the Heroes promo telling us Peter is dead? I could have sworn FutureHiro says that Peter is alive in the future (or at least alive long enough to be sporting a scar.)

K J Gillenwater said...

bf, by yielding a team that didn't need to be yielded. They were in last place already, plus they had a 30 minute time penalty. Why would you choose this team to yield? They claimed that Eric & Danielle were a strong team, but that was the team in very last place who had a penalty already.

It was a worthless yield, in my opinion. Even the girls said it, it was "kicking them when they were down," so why do it?

This is exactly what they did the last time they raced...they were mean when they didn't have to be.

I so wish Danny and Oswald could have talked to Mirna and Charla first...they felt terrible about what they had to do for extra cash.

As for the blondes, they're in for it now. Eric is pissed off and will likely get back at them in the last part of the race. I only hope they succeed in knocking those girls to the back of the pack...wishful thinking, I'm sure. But karma will hopefully bite these girls in the ass...

Anonymous said...

Alan, what was the reason for the super-extended hiatus on airings of Heroes? It seems that they would have or should have learned from the backlash of Lost doing that. With a new show, it seems like that sort of absence might have the potential to really hurt the show.

BF said...

Of course you kick a team when they're down: you don't kick them when they can kick back. And this was the PERFECT time to use the Yield: a Physical team is last (and Marked). This is your best chance to knock them out. I'd much rather face Mirna & Schmirna in the final leg than Eric & Danny.

How is Eric gonna "get back" at the BQ's: not share information with them? It's the last 2 legs and there wouldn't be any sharing anyway. R-A-C-E!

Anonymous said...

"Alan, what was the reason for the super-extended hiatus on airings of Heroes? It seems that they would have or should have learned from the backlash of Lost doing that."

Oh, for crying out loud, WHAT does it take to make people happy? When Lost aired sporadically throughout the season, people complained. Then they cut the season in 2 and people complained. Heroes has aired in 3 large uninterrupted blocks and people complain. Reruns have been a tv reality for decades. Why do people seem to forget that and freak out when a show airs one?

Anonymous said...

Great column, Alan. As you might glean, we watch a lot of TV in my house, but we're very selective about our loyalties, having been burned too often. My wife and kids love Heroes, but every time we watch it, my 13 yr old asks me, "So, do you like this show, Daddy?"
I always reply, "I'm not sure yet." I think you captured the reason for that. This same sort of problem infects a lot of shows, and I think it owes to TV's pressure to be all things to all people. A quirky show can tie itself in knots trying to be "accessible". "Raines" is a perfect example of this, seeming like a Donald Bellisario production of a David Lynch film. So far, Heroes has largely resisted this. I hope it continues.
I disagree slightly about the dead wood. I like Parkman as a character, and I think he is part of a group of characters that are very relatable and essential to the show's continued popularity.

Anonymous said...

"Reruns have been a tv reality for decades. Why do people seem to forget that and freak out when a show airs one?"

Thanks for the hysteria in response to a simple question.

First of all, there's no question tht TV networks have altered their strategies for airing programs in an age when there are so many media alternatives. You may hearken back to the era of three channels and constant reruns, but it's a different time now than then. But the question didn't ask why there were reruns, generally, but rather, why the network chose to do so for this particular show at this particular time? Perhaps there is an answer, perhaps there is not. But when a show is built upon a mythology like that of Heroes or Lost, and when it goes into an extended period of reruns past the point during which other shows return, it does seem to irk viewers. This does not seem to be a particularly good strategy for a new show. Perhaps the execs felt confidant enough in their numbers to do so. Perhaps it is routine. Perhaps it is something else. That's all I wanted to know. But I guess since you, fellow anonymous commenter, know eveything already, you can put that omniscience on display for all of us who are not as wordly wise.

Adam said...

bf, by yielding a team that didn't need to be yielded. They were in last place already, plus they had a 30 minute time penalty. Why would you choose this team to yield? They claimed that Eric & Danielle were a strong team, but that was the team in very last place who had a penalty already.

It was a worthless yield, in my opinion. Even the girls said it, it was "kicking them when they were down," so why do it?

To make sure they stay down, but since Danny and Oswald got lost, it didn't matter.

Anonymous said...

I agree with first Anon re: the hiatus. After watching Jericho in the beginning of the season, I simply never tuned back in after the extended break into 2007. I'm not even sure I'm going to re-start with Heroes, another show I've watched in its entirety and have talked up to non-watching friends. Sure they've showed it in long blocks, but the breaks have been far too long, I think. Appointment TV makes no sense when you can't make an appointment for three months.

Cinnette said...

They have to shoot the new episodes. That's why there are these breaks. I have to say though, I would have preferred seeing reruns instead of having NBC airing that ridiculous Deal or No Deal thing over and over. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

Aren't they ahead enough when the first episode airs, though, that they don't need to stop for an extended break? Or was Heroes only picked up for a certain number of episodes and it was extended, requiring new shooting?

Alan Sepinwall said...

The way TV production schedules work, the only way a show can run for 22 episodes straight is if it doesn't debut until January, 24-style. (And, starting next year, Lost-style.)

DNR said...

And if they did shoot the season straight through, they'd have no real chance to change course if things weren't working out. A lot of stuff on Heroes has been hit and miss, and as Alan said in his article, they've taken the opportunity to fine tune things, de-emphasizing or killing some characters, increasing the profile of others. Would you rather have an uninterrupted season focusing on Matt's marital difficulties?

And a new show like Heroes wouldn't have 22 episodes in the can at the beginning of the season anyway- they'd need to be picked up for a full season first.

If interruptions are difficult, you can wait until the entire season is on DVD and then watch at your own pace.

Taleena said...


The Beauty Queens are playing a smart game and paying Danny and Ozzie to yield Eric and Danielle and not them was a smart thing to do. Not underhanded not unfair - smart. Oswald initiated the offer not the BQ's but they were right to take him up on it.

Eric and Danielle are a strong team - they finished in second place and only one team made it in within their "marked for Elimination" penalty.

Looking at Kandice and Dustin's choices and rank the strength of the teams racing:

Danny and Oswald are very strong and work airports well but they can't yield themselves.

Mirna and Charla have good airport juju but piss away leads during detours and roadblocks and are never likely to win foot races. Plus Oswald unaccountably has formed a bond with Mirna.

Eric and Danielle are very good at non airport racing and would be in stronger positions if they had better airport kung-fu. They are at equal strength winning foot races with the Beauty Queens. Plus Eric has an ugly mouth on him and has made free with the gay insults with the Guidos.

Even if Dustin and Kandice had not vocalized their option in Eric and Danielle who else would Danny and Ozzie Pick?

Anonymous said...

I understand that they wouldn't have the entire season in the can at the time the first episode aired. But my understanding was that production was always a month or two ahead of air date, so they could shoot as they go without the need for an interruption.

I guess my question is, why is the TV schedule such that it requires these types of interruptions? Is it a production issue? Is it just the way networks have always done things? I would think as our attention spans lessen and lessen and the better shows run shorter seasons without interruptions (The Wire, The Shield, Rome, Sopranos) that would be the model to emulate, not the tired and true network model.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It's a production issue. All the shows you cite produce 13 episodes or fewer a season. Network shows produce 22 or more. Realistically, there is no way to produce episodes to air 22 weeks in a row unless the first one airs in January -- or unless you basically take a season off so you can start in September (or whenever) and go 22 straight.

BF said...

All the shows you just mentioned have limited runs: approximatly 13 episodes. There's a gigantic difference between doing 13 episodes in a row and doing 22.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I get that they run 13 as opposed to 22. That's why I mentioned that they had a shorter season. If it's a production issue, and they don't have enough time to get enough episodes in the queue to be "ahead" enough to not resort to reruns for non-holiday reasons, I get it.

I guess I am just tired of the American network television model.

Anonymous said...

I find it strange that using yields would be deemed nasty or mean. I mean, it is funny that the BQs essentially managed to yield E&D twice in one season. But still, it makes sense for them to do it. And Eric appears to be a straight-up jerk---the only plus to his continued existence on my TV is that he's been forced to cool his heels twice by the BQs. Hee.

My guess is that we are all a bit more sensitive to the existence of patches of reruns given the fact that these are serialized shows. When you are talking about a comedy that is enjoyable but whose existence does not center around developing a lengthy plot, the fact that who have to wait for a new episode may be vaguely annoying, but it's not the same as wanting to know the next answer in Heroes. All in all, I prefer the block method to the "scattered new shows," because I missed a couple of Lost episodes last year when I didn't realize it was going to be new.

Pandyora said...

Alan, I agree with all the points you raise. Here’s a couple of other ideas:

(1) Get some of the heroes together. We’ve had just a few cross-hero interactions. To be sure, the writers are probably saving the big hero townhall meeting for the final episode. I’m hoping that at least a core group of the Heroes share information and choose to work as a team by the end of the season. One of the more frustrating Lost phenomena is the lack of character cross talk.

(2) More villains. Sylar is played with an enthusiastic creepiness by Zach Quinto, but aside from atomic boy and the shadow conspiracy, Heroes suffers from a lack of villains. I’m sure more will be revealed and some heroes will turn evil. But one of the joys of comic books is the wide variety of villainous behavior and motives.

(3) Humor from characters mouths. I agree that the show can be funny, especially when it pokes fun at its own genre conventions. But the only character who is consistently funny is Hiro and he is more goofy than humorous. In contrast, the rest of the cast gets stuck with ponderous self-important sounding dialogue.

I think the model should be more “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – give the characters themselves a sense of ironic humor, don’t just wink at the audience by playing on comic book cliches.

(4) Keep moving the plots quickly. I’m sure Heroes could coast along as it is now with new heroes emerging and new connections being formed. I’m hoping the writers think bigger. What about an anti-hero media frenzy? How about a hero cure and the ethics of hero sterilization? A military plot to turn the heroes into weapons? A Presidential election where heroes become the issue? Etc. etc. The X-Men comics alone provide endless possibilities.

I hope the producers use their renewal and bigger budget to take some risks. The show could coast on interpersonal hero origin stories for many seasons. But wouldn't it be great if it aimed even higher?

Anonymous said...

Alan, I think you might like The Amazing Race anyway -- I thought the ending was one of the most suspenseful I've seen in a while.

Unknown said...

by yielding a team that didn't need to be yielded. They were in last place already, plus they had a 30 minute time penalty. Why would you choose this team to yield?

That's Mirna-logic. Considering that even though they were Yielded, they showed up second to the Pit Stop, E&D should have been held back by the other three teams as much as possible (given how poorly C&M and O&D raced). If they had not been Yielded, they might even have come in before D&K, and then being MFE would have no effect.

The idea behind the Yield, when used properly, is for the knock out blow. The fact that about half the Yields seem to be on non-elimination legs makes it trickier though.

Anonymous said...

Some TAR comments:

- Since O&D went from the end of their detour to the beginning and knew they had to go back wouldn't they have paid more attention to the route the taxi took? It gets mentioned briefly when they finally get there but I would think one of them would have had a pen and paper writing down the route.

- I had no problem with the BQs using the Yield but I didn't like them lying about it to Eric and Danielle at the end.

- It is kind of silly to be "Marked For Elimination" on a non-elimination leg.

- Seeing the BQ's make the noodles was enjoyable and worth the time to watch this episode by itself.

Anonymous said...

Alan, no! 'Heroes' doesn't need saving, it's doing just fine.

I agree that all shows inevitably jump the shark, which we'll all have to expect one day. However, I would contest pretty much all of your prescriptions on how to 'fix' the show. My counter-points:

Keep the large cast. One of the delights of Heroes is its constellation of characters, who continue to move and bump against one another like pinballs. Having a group of protagonists who all share a single secret in common but are still gradually meeting one another even at this late date has helped keep the character aspect of the show strong. Some characters are weaker than others, true, but Parkman has improved since growing a pair in recent episodes, and I'm also detecting subtle signs of progress with Nikki/Jessica. Cutting Heroes' cast would result in a more streamlined show, but I enjoy the coordinated chaos of the existing format.

Keep formula-breakers to a minimum. I enjoyed the hell out of "Company Man", and I wouldn't mind if they continued to do one or two such episodes a season, so I don't guess we really disagree here, but the genius of "Company Man" was that Heroes beat Lost at its own game -- and then walked off the field while it was still ahead. Heroes does not need to become much more Lost-like, in fact I found this comment interesting given that you and other critics have asked for Lost itself to lose the flashbacks (a move which I would also disagree with).

Maintain the delicate balance between pulp and drama. This is the most important one. I don't think the writers seem torn at all about how to deal with their show's inherent contradictions; I think they're doing wonderfully at navigating that precarious tightrope, and in fact, as with the Spider-Man movies, the groundedness of Heroes is I think how it's managed to attract such a wide audience while most of its viewers wouldn't be caught dead holding one of Isaac's comics. Let me repeat: Heroes should NOT become more comic-book-like. Which means, please don't have them embrace the "silly pulpiness" of the show. I don't think they're embarrassed by it, I think they're supplementing it by giving it an accessible foundation.

(Which makes me just a little sad at the Watchmen swipe, for my money the only thing approaching a serious flaw in ".07%", but there are enough differences that I'm happy to see where that leads.)