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Top TV Stories of 2008: The decline of Heroes

by Brett Love, posted Dec 24th 2008 2:05PM

Heroes Cast

I'm sure that many of us could go round and round over the quality of the episodes in this latest chapter of Heroes. If you're following along with the weekly reviews, you've no doubt seen it play out in the comments. The thing that is a little harder to argue is the ratings. Over these last few months, the one time flagship NBC drama has seen its numbers drop to drastic levels. Put another way, if Heroes was a space ship, and dropping ratings signified an increase in speed, the show has gone plaid.

That's not to say that Heroes is the only returning show having troubles. Over at ABC, the performance of Pushing Daisies has been abysmal. Fox has had their own problems with the highly publicized Terminator:TSCC. That one has done so poorly that it's being sent to Friday to die. The network can claim they are building a new night of sci-fi all they want; I think they're cutting their losses.

The difference here though, is that Heroes was supposed to be the show on NBC. ABC has Grey's and the Housewives. CBS has their crime empire. FOX has Dr. House. And NBC has... The Office? And I don't mean to disparage The Office there. It is among the finest comedies on TV, and it holds its own every week in the toughest time slot on television, facing down Supernatural.. and, ya know, CSI and Grey's.

As good as it is though, it's never going to get those big time numbers that make it the flagship. That's a job that was given to Heroes, and it's one that the show has now completely failed at. Things have become so bad that the big winter break finale wasn't even close to the highest rated show on the network that week. That honor went to The Biggest Loser, and not by a small margin. Try nearly four million viewers and nine tenths of a point in the demo. It's not like this is Idol or Dancing With The Stars we're talking about. It's The Biggest Loser. The obvious question is, "what happened?" It's hard to say, exactly, but we can talk about a few of the theories:

DVR: This one was brought up again by none other than Tim Kring, in his infamous "saps and dipshits" comment. There is a kernel of truth to it, with the latest numbers I've seen showing Heroes as the number 6 most DVR'd show. There are a couple flies in that ointment, however. You have to look at the other shows on the list. Who is DVR'd even more than Heroes? Grey's Anatomy, House, The Office, CSI, and Desperate Housewives. And none of those shows has suffered nearly the same collapse. Even more damning, two spots below Heroes on the DVR'd list you will find NCIS. Not only has it not suffered a collapse, the numbers are as strong as they have ever been. To top it all off, even with the roughly 2.5 million additional viewers the DVR adds, the show is still struggling to nudge above 10 million viewers.

Timeslot: There is just too much to watch Monday at 9. Early in the season, I would have been more receptive to this argument. After all, it was a pretty packed time slot. Dancing With The Stars, Two and a Half Men/Worst Week, and Prison Break do make for less than ideal conditions. Unfortunately, there are problems with this one as well. To start, I would point you back to Thursday at 9. The Office has to find viewers in the midst of Grey's Anatomy and CSI duking it out for the #1 slot each week. And it still manages to easily outpace Heroes. The worst bit though, is what happened as this latest chapter wound down. If you were going to hang your hat on the time slot argument, it really all went to hell at the end. Dancing With The Stars finished up and ABC trotted out Samantha Who? and a line of Christmas cartoons, giving away between a half and two thirds of the Dancing audience. Add to that the fact that the FOX Monday has imploded and Prison Break is as weak as it has ever been, ratings wise. Why, then, has Heroes not rebounded? The numbers stayed down.

The Emperor Has No Clothes: To put it quite simply, Tim Kring has f'ed this thing up. In the beginning, I think he had a great idea for a television show, and I think he knew what it was he wanted to do. But I haven't believed that for a long time now. His admissions that the show has problems don't exactly instill confidence, and it would seem that more and more viewers are no longer giving him the benefit of the doubt when he says it will all get better. Given the nature of the show, Heroes needs someone with a steady hand and a clear vision running things. I don't think Kring is the best person for that job anymore. Much has been made of Bryan Fuller coming on as a consultant, and that could very well improve the show. But I can't help thinking that consultant is the wrong job title. Kring has had his chance, and should be replaced.

The good news is that Heroes isn't close to being canceled, so there is time to fix things and bring it back. The numbers are certainly down, but a 3.6 in the demo is still well above average. And given the state of the rest of the NBC lineup, it would be very hard to let it go. It leaves a door open. The decline of the ratings was a big story for 2008. Now we need to sit back and see what 2009 will bring.

More top TV stories of 2008

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shakti

i personally have been a huge heroes fan but this season is just too nerve wrecking. with this recession and all, people have enough to worry abt. they might want to see some happy things, right?
i personally watch friends, even though its a rerun. i love the happy feeling it gives me!

January 14 2009 at 2:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Astin

Got to agree with network interference a bit too. I can't shake the idea that the Season 1 finale was all the network's fault. Like they forced a change in direction and then wouldn't fund the outcome everyone expected.

Kring originally said that he planned to kill off most of the characters and start fresh with Season 2, then repeat that for subsequent seasons. This way, you'd never know who would make it out of each week's episode alive, and nobody would be safe.

The problem was that Hiro, Peter, Claire, Sylar, etc. got popular. Masi Oka was on magazine covers, Hayden Panettiere was dressed to the nines on red carpets, that minor character from a couple Gilmour Girls episodes was now a star. The network couldn't deal with their hottest properties dying. Remember, Heroes was originally a throw-away show that surprised everyone with its popularity.

Once D.L. didn't die from massive wounds, Sylar was dragged to safety after supposedly being killed, and neither Peter NOR Nathan died in a nuclear explosion, I lost faith. The show lost its cojones. Then, NOBODY could die. A little Claire blood and everything was okay!

Season 2 was a joke of bad romance, slipshod plotting, and the writer's strike.

Season 3 was all over the place, and if you try to follow the story along ANY arc, you'll get a headache as character motivations and traits changed on a weekly basis, past events were conveniently forgotten, powers were ignored, and nobody knew what was going on.

Top it all off with the incredibly lazy "stupid" tool - when the writers get themselves in a corner and can't progress the plot logically, any of the characters can become an absolute IDIOT for 10 minutes - and it's a joke.

And yet, I still watch it, partially out of habit, partially out of masochism, and partly out of hope of improvement. The final handful of episodes in Season 3 started righting the ship a bit, but I fear it was too little, too late. Peter, Sylar, and Hiro should have been killed off in Season 1, or at least stripped of their powers then.

December 30 2008 at 1:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bukster

I believe there is a LOT of network meddling going on with this show. The show started as a drama with sci-fi/mystical/comic overtones. Now it has completely flipped. I liked it when it was character driven, "normal" people learning that they were different and how to deal with they they were discovering. Since the network is obviously betting the farm with this show I feel every exec at the network has put there 2 cents in on how to make this show a "powerhouse" and it has hurt it. I too switched to Prison Break and was DVR'ing Heroes on G4 later in the week. Now, I don't even do that. I'd rather watch a year-old repeat of The Office than a new episode of Heroes.

December 29 2008 at 9:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Alpha

I liked Heroes better when it was called THE 4400!
Oh sweet sweet 4400!!!

December 27 2008 at 11:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
JoAnn Vara

What will 2009 bring for Heroes, Tim Kring and NBC?
If the American justice system is worth anything, then 2009 will bring a jail cell for Tim Kring, cancellation of a lame ass show called Heroes, Jeff Zucker viewed as The Bernard Madoff of all network tv and the original creators of the Heroes concept" The Twins" will go back to creating art that can see the future to save lives, as The Twins did with "The Atta Page "before MR. Atta destroyed the WTC on September 11,2001.
The Twins are the only artists worldwide that produced art that gave us the information that there are 9 letters in the word Manhattan and 11 letters in the name Mohamed Atta and that atta's name is in the word
manh-ATTA-n, before September 11,2001.
The Twins also taught at Hunter College in 2005, that when all of us look at the word Manhattan , we will always remember the name ATTA and what ATTA did to ManhATTAn and the WTC on September 11, 2001.
It's clear to me why Heroes FAILED, it's STOLEN intellectual property.

December 27 2008 at 7:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
KenMo

Sorry

"Metaphor"

December 27 2008 at 4:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
KenMo

I like a good metaphore as much as the next guy, but...

"if Heroes was a space ship, and dropping ratings signified an increase in speed, the show has gone plaid.

???

December 27 2008 at 4:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to KenMo's comment
Brett Love

Hey KenMo, the plaid is a Spaceballs reference. Have a look at the video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mk7VWcuVOf0

December 28 2008 at 12:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Karen

I wish we could tie the Heros writing staff to chairs and make them watch the entire run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer until little light bulbs finally go off over their heads. That's how you make good fantasy fiction - even the most minor characters had rock solid cores of personalities, abilities & quirks THAT NEVER EVER CHANGED. Even if the events of their lives radically altered their outlooks or motivations, who they were was always who they were when we met them, and their histories always dictated what happened next. Without that backbone of realistically drawn characters and iron-clad worldbuilding, you just don't have anything to hang all your sci-fi frills on.
I think Heros has already gone where the X-Files went in it's later seasons; a bunch of pretentious general murkiness masquerading as mystery.

December 26 2008 at 9:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Matthew Golem

I bailed in Season One, when it seemed the show had nowhere to go after the "Save the Cheerleader" arc. Since then, I've heard nothing about how disappointing the show has been. I kind of hope NBC cancels it so I can stop reading about had bad it is.

December 25 2008 at 7:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gordy

Prison Break won at 9PM in my house. I didn't even record Heroes when Samantha Who? came on...I'd just download a torrent.

December 25 2008 at 4:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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