Top TV Stories of 2008: The decline of Heroes
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.