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Heroes Fails to Deliver; Still Scores Big Ratings


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I've been preaching for a few weeks now that Heroes was pushing the myth and mystique too far without giving enough attention to resolving shorter character arcs or being careful not to over-hype. My conclusion is that the producers at best only bought themselves more time.

I believed that "SAVE THE CHEERLEADER, SAVE THE WORLD" was a throw-away line that caught on with fans when it shouldn't have. I know from experience that things like that aren't thought up on purpose, they kind of just happen. You throw everything out there and then pray that something sticks to the wall long enough to get you a full season order.

This catchy tagline caught on like a wild fire, and I think it unfairly cornered them into a hype cycle that they simply weren't prepared for, or even capable of paying off.

Curious as to just how many people were actually paying attention and intent on tuning in for the promised resolution versus those merely have perceived a wave of new enthusiasm where none really existed, I checked the previous weeks fast national ratings for Monday night and saved them for comparison.

As I am about to do right now, I will compare the ratings again to see if there was any fall off from the conclusion to that so called arc.

Overall, Heroes saw no increase in overall viewership between the 12th and 19th, but did gain sharply in the always critical 18-49 demographic. The 18-49's are the most sought after by the networks as they represent the most value to commercial advertisers.

If I'm interpreting the ratings correctly, than Heroes actually lost a number of viewers outside their core demos, but replaced them with the ones they want the most. It is not what you expect to happen, and is slightly disappointing on the one hand, while wildly exciting for the money men.

My personal feeling is that the "cheerleader" arc was not resolved in any measurable way, and that the episode was typical of the show as it has been thus far. It was enjoyable and entertaining, but resolved absolutely nothing, as it hasn't done even once approaching the halfway mark.

As many people disagree with my interpretations and observations, I will turn to reviews on the Internet to see what websites that review television shows as a matter of course have to say about the episode.

Premium Hollywood's Will Harris would seem to agree with my assessment, saying "despite several nice segments throughout, I think you ultimately have to deem this episode disappointing, if only because NBC spent way too much time playing up the suggestion that we’d get something approximating resolution this week…and it’s safe to say that we did not."

I can't help bit admit that this little diddy stoked my ego a bit, as I've often compared the looming failures of Heroes to another serial that broke onto the scene with great fanfare and quickly grew a feverish fan base only to completely self-destruct less than a year later.
The moment when Mohinder figures out his father’s password and discovers that Daddy had been maintaining a database of each of the world’s super-powered individuals is a nice one, although the whole thing with the kid appearing outside of his dream and in the real world was a bit too “Twin Peaks” for me…and that’s more Season 2 “Twin Peaks” rather than Season 1 “Twin Peaks.” (It’s a crucial distinction, I can assure you.)
And he wrapped up his piece with this, which is precisely what I foretold would happen.
Anyway, not a bad episode…but it’s clear that NBC knowingly and willfully faked out viewers by making them think they were going to get more than they got. That ain’t cool, man. It might not be all that surprising…but it still ain’t cool.
A few people in the comment section raised a point that I've heard before, that comics typically don't resolve much of anything, and that this series is essentially a comic book series on television. I reject that defense as the mediums have vastly different audiences and rules. Heroes is scoring very well in the demographics that generally exclude the comic book crowd by a long shot, and TV series that go heavy on the mystery and lite on answers are currently falling in the ratings.

I know the television world from the inside well enough to know that you can't play games like this over the long run and get away with it. Audiences just won't stand for never having questions answered; people like being teased for only so long before they get pissed off.

As for being promised resolution and getting none, this could have been the NBC marketing arm reaching further than the show could grasp, or it could be the show over reaching itself. We'll see when the next opportunity comes, such as a mid-season finale, or the actual season finale itself.

I checked out and utterly dismissed the fan-reviews posted over at tv.com. I really hopped to find something of value, given the traffic CNET sites get, and the existing user base of tv tome, but it really was a bunch of junk. The sites editor hasn't posted a review in what seems like the entire year.

I may be chastised for this, given that almost all of the reviews over there are positive, but when you can't go a single page without seeing two or three "perfects" which hardly any episode of any show should ever get, you must take a hard look at whose writing these things. Are these people truly representative of satisfied fans, or are they just fan boys?

An article on buddytv.com raises the same issues with network marketing that I have.
For starters, a little lesson for those who do not know. The marketing departments rarely, and I mean very rarely, work closely with the show-runners on the big networks. Some of them aren’t even working in the same town, if you can imagine that. Furthermore, show runners rarely, super-rarely, have any veto power on marketing - it’s just not their thing. Heroes is no different. The promise of the marketing people is not necessarily the promise of the producers. So, that said, NBC marketing did a fantastic job of selling this episode as the culmination of the “Save the Cheerleader, Save the world” motif.
Hardly anyone will disagree that NBC Universal marketing earned their pay; if only the producers of the show could do the same.

It continues:
This is where the episode has to deliver, and deliver BIG. For weeks we’ve heard “Save the Cheerleader, Save the world” without really knowing why she was so important. NBC marketing has been telling us this is a pivotal mantra; the center of the Heroes universe.

For starters, there was no drawing of the specials for this confrontation. It was just Peter. So either NBC marketing was very wrong in their interpretation of what this event would entail, or they flat out over-sold it. At this point there are many specials who have done nothing more than bump into each other in less than casual ways. We are miles away from a super-team converging to battle an evil of unimaginable power. However, do we even know that he is that powerful at all?

[...]

So “Save the cheerleader, save the world” comes to an end, but not in as big a way as we would have imagined. It was not the ‘coming together’ that we anticipated, nor was it a fruitful explanation of why Claire was so pivotal to begin with.

[...]

As far as living up to the expectations of NBC marketing, I’d have to say the episode failed to deliver. As far as adding another compelling chapter to a story that just seems to get better every week… all I can say is: excelsior!
I don't go the distance that this reviewer did, because it's a bad sign that this show has no intention or capability to wrap things up, period. Either that, or they just got royally screwed over by NBCU marketing. As I said, those guys earned their scratch because we all tuned in ready to eat up whatever it was they were going to serve.

A writer for the Chicago Tribune takes the show to task for its stale writing and repetitive and unnecessary exposition of facts we're all well aware of. This is a recurring theme with people I've spoken with, and I'm sorry to break the bad news, but this will not get any better. If one episode features bad dialog, you can write it off as a writer who doesn't listen to the way people talk. If the entire series suffers from this problem, then it means everyone in the writing room doesn't listen to the way people talk. That won't improve unless you fire the entire staff, and that will never happen. Get used to it.

Perhaps this damning piece of her review says what is foremost on my mind right now.
But yes, despite the stripper plot, despite the sketchy acting in some cases, despite the groan-worthy dialogue and sometimes infuriating pace, despite my aggrieved annoyance at that lock of hair that's constantly dangling in Peter's face, I’ve grown to not dislike “Heroes.”
As a person who is losing hair at a prematurly alarming rate thanks to my own adventure in genetics, I actually admire the actor. If I looked that good, I'd probably want to be an actor too, instead of a writer. He looks good the way he is, so I say stick with it.

It's not hard to like Heroes, but it wasn't hard to like Lost either, or Twin Peaks for that matter. The problem is these things, if not fixed over time, will wear you down until you decide to give some other new hotshot drama a try that will surely come next season, rather than coming back to this, which you try desperately not to dislike. What fun is that? How can a show survive when people are looking for reasons not to hate the show?

It's the sugar high. Ask more questions, further deepen the mystery. Keep everyone off balance so they won't smell the rotting fish you're being served -- it can't last forever.

The consensus is building; "I like it, but damn if they didn't disappoint me by not giving us what they promised, and oh by the way, the dialog freaking sucks too." Not good.

We move on.

MSNBC hysterically ripped me off with a story named "Save the cheerleader, save 'Heroes'?". I wrote an article named "Save the Cheerleader, Save Your Show" right before the most recent episode aired, hours before they figured it out. Smug in my resounding victory over the highly respected and critically acclaimed news outlet (insert more hysterical laughter) I examine their diatribe below.
For a week, and at practically every primetime commercial break, NBC taunted viewers with this earnestly whispered cheerleader-saving imperative, promoting “Homecoming,” the Nov. 20 episode of “Heroes,” in which both the audience and the super-powered characters finally learn their destiny. But when the episode was over, neither viewers nor the so-called heroes knew much more than they did in the episode a week before.
Boy, did I call that or what?
The show is based on a lousy understanding of genetics and adheres ambiguously to the science fiction trope it allegedly follows. And frankly, a lot of the characters in the ensemble cast are really annoying.

Yet “Heroes” totally works. What’s more, it’s successful science fiction on primetime network TV. That almost never happens.
Here we have an amazing and completely valid point. Only not really. The proper definition of science fiction is "Literary fantasy involving the imagined impact of science on society." Heroes doesn't qualify yet because science simply hasn't played a central role to the series. It's been hinted at, but kept in the closet so it doesn't scare off too many people. They poke and prod and suggest and tease, but it's just not there. Smoke and mirrors so far, but maybe they'll bring it to the forefront eventually. If and when, then it may qualify. Today, not so much.

Oddly, hardly any "science fiction" show on television today qualifies. Certainly Battlestar Galactica, the current king of the genre must, right? Not so fast. They have space ships, and robots, and cool advanced technology we'll never see in our life times, but none of it comments on sciences impact on society. Caprica, the new spin-off which deals with the creation of the Cylons will almost certainly qualify, but so far, BSG isn't there.

Truthfully, three of the five Star Trek television series didn't either. Enterprise kind of tried, but only in the way that Paris Hilton tries to be smart. DS9 knew better and just gave us great stories. Voyager...well nobody is really sure what Voyager was trying to do, I'll let you know once we figure that out.

Science and it's impact on humanity and science must play a central role for a series to qualify as sci-fi, and Heroes doesn't even come close. Heroes is a drama first and foremost, and that suits it just fine. That's what people want, and it delivers. It's a very dramatic show, so let's not go too far MSNBC and start making things up.
As any geek worth his or her eight-sided dice knows, science fiction is always a blatant metaphor for something human and real. For example: “Star Trek” (social morality), current “Battlestar Galactica” (current political climate) and “X-Men” (racism/bigotry).
Obviously, somebody over there isn't listening to me. I'm crying...on the inside. The MSNBC writer goes off on a transcript tangent of the episode, rather than actually reviewing it as he said he would. Must be NBCU rubbing off on him.

I could go on, but I think the point is clear. People love Heroes in general, but are frustrated by campy dialog, and a lack of story resolution that every show must have. The famous tagline is now the infamous tagline that ended up shooting the show right in the foot
for no good reason.

The promise wasn't paid off and now we'll have to see if that affects the ratings, or just serves as a minor irritation to the audience that has a number of minor irritations already brewing.

At the end of the episode, NBC went right back to work, promising that soon all the questions will be answered to our most burning questions. I'll tune in, and so will you, because we don't know of they are lying again or telling the truth; we don't want to missing something really great when the potential is right there in front of us. But I remain skeptical.

Something for NBC and Heroes to think about: Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, and you'll get canceled.
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Nov 23, 2006, 10:19:00 PM
wow...what a blowhard. I hope NBC never is stupid enough to listen to anything you have to say...at least on the subject of Heroes. I and many others think it's just fine the way it is. So there...why don't u just find something else to watch and spare us all this worthless tripe of yours in the future.


Nov 23, 2006, 10:45:00 PM
NBCU doesn't have to listen to me, the shows executive producers are responsible for this stuff so ultimately they are the ones that need to listen.

I'm happy you enjoy the show and thanks for taking the time to read my worthless tripe.

Since I'm batting 1.000 on this so far, don't get upset when things don't change and Heroes takes a dive in its sophomore season. I warned 'em.


Nov 24, 2006, 4:20:00 AM
Hey anonymous... STFU ok? PT has a very valid point in what he says here. I don't normally agree with most of what he says, but he's hit it right on the head with this one. Stop being such a fanboy and trying to defend your show. I like the show. I'll tune into it again. I also happen to agree that they're milking this one too much.


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The text of this article is Copyright © 2006,2007 Paul William Tenny. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Attribution by: full name and original URL. Comments are copyrighted by their authors and are not subject to the Creative Commons license of the article itself.