When Heroes first graced television screens in 2006, it seemed destined to be the savior that NBC was looking for. In its initial 23-episode run, Heroes averaged 14.3 million viewers an episode, making it NBC’s highest rated drama in five years. Casual audiences weren’t the only ones awed by Heroes’ charms; in its first season, the show won universal praise from critics as well. Heroes’ rise is just as well known as its eventual fall. After a writer’s strike, slower pacing, and a continued inability to shake up the status quo with characters, the quality of the program sharply declined, as did the show’s viewership. By the end of season four, NBC had enough and decided to pull the plug on Heroes. But this is NBC we’re talking about, the most dysfunctional and desperate of the major networks, so, of course, seven years later, NBC has decided to revive Heroes for a new season in 2015.
As a fan of the show’s first season, and detractor of its latter incarnations, I’m here to offer creator Tim Kring and the NBC brass some tips on getting Heroes back on track. Here’s my advice:
It’s been four years since Heroes took its final bow. That’s a lot of time in TV land, and most of the cast from the show’s initial run has gone on, in some cases, to bigger and better things. As much as I’d love to see Zachary Quinto back as ultimate villain Sylar, I just don’t see that happening. So, forget it. Reboot! Introduce a new generation of people with abilities. The X-Men comics haven’t stuck with the same super-powered team forever, so here’s your opportunity to create new, memorable characters that can improve upon the ones from the first go ’round. A lot of the characters from the initial run grew stale by season four anyway, so wipe the slate clean. Maybe they can bring a few characters back, I think the non-powered characters like company man Noah Bennet and scientist Mohinder Suresh could mesh well with a new cast, establishing a connection to the old iteration of the show and providing a base for the show’s mythology, but other than that, start fresh with new faces, and more importantly, new abilities! Think of all the special effects advances we’ve made in just four years!
2. Limited Run with Cohesive Arc
As shows like American Horror Story and True Detective are proving, audiences are interested in shows that have a smaller number of episodes with a clear start and finish in mind. Heroes could work incredibly well in the Anthology format, telling a single season story with different characters and actors each year. Part of the reason that the first season worked so well is because it was clear what the show was building to; there was a nuclear bomb set to destroy half of New York, and someone needed to stop it. The show lost its tight focus after that first season, unable to come up with the next big idea or plot that would hold everything together. Thirteen episodes is a perfect amount, that way the filler will be kept to a minimum and the pace will stay up.
3. Keep the World Large
Part of the fun of the first season is watching all of the characters, from various parts of the country, eventually become intertwined and connect. In that first season, the world felt so large and exciting, and it was fun guessing where the show was going to take us next. But after the show became comfortable with its cast, the writers zoomed in too far. Soon, it felt like everything that happened on the show revolved around the Petrellis or New York. The spontaneity, the anything-can-happen aspect of the show felt gone. Hopefully, the new season will embrace a larger than life worldview.
4. Hire Comic Book Writers
In Heroes’ early seasons, the show employed comic book writers Jeph Loeb, Joe Pokaski, Aron Coleite, and Michael Green to help establish the tone and origins of the show. Who better than comic book writers to tackle powers-based origin stories and the juggling of multiple character arcs? Not only did it help fans of the genre feel familiar, but it brought a perfect mix of pulp and heart to the program. But this isn’t 2006 and the market has been over-saturated with superhero properties. Audiences may be experiencing superhero fatigue, so Heroes needs to set itself apart, and it can do that by hiring the comic book world’s most innovative and genre subverting writers. Mark Waid has done incredible work breathing fresh air into Daredevil, Matt Fraction has brought a perfect mix of comedy, action, and originality to everyman hero Hawkeye, and Jonathan Hickman’s work on Marvel’s various Avengers titles proves he knows how to deal with a bringing a big cast together. Any one of these guys could produce a great story for the rebirth of Heroes.
5. Don’t Fall In Love With Your Characters
Season one of Heroes didn’t hesitate to kill its darlings. Isaac, Simone, Charlie, Linderman, and others were axed with little to no remorse. The show wasn’t afraid to off popular characters if it helped push the story along and make things more interesting, but after that first season it seemed as if all those guts were gone. Characters were constantly revived, resurrected, and reintroduced, sometimes in completely implausible, even by this show’s standards, ways. If the audience doesn’t feel like anyone is in danger, than it erases stakes and leaves no room for anxious feelings about the fate of your favorite Hero. When the show returns, I hope it comes with its sense of ruthlessness.
The prospect of new Heroes episodes should be met with some skepticism, but if the new run of episodes can learn from the show’s successes and failures, and follow some of these key rules, then NBC might have another powerhouse on its hands. If not, I’m sure they’ll send it back to the vault like Adam Monroe.