Heroes, Villains & Corporate Interests

Littleton’s TV on Strike struck an agitated chord in me as I remember the effects these protests had on what little television I was invested in at that point. From 2007-2008, my absolute favorite shows consisted of Lost, Supernatural, House, Gossip Girl and most importantly, Heroes. Now, while Lost and Supernatural were certainly impacted by the strike, Heroes probably suffered the most at the hands of this war on corporate greed. Created and directed by Tim Kring, Heroes was a show that was centered on the lives and drama of ordinary people who suddenly develop superpowers. Critics and fans alike were quick to compare it to X-Men, though the series maintained a steady focus on the humanity and vulnerability of each of its characters, even the brain-eating (?) villain Sylar. The show was, in a word, ground-breaking and very well-received during its first season. All of its hype and accolades quickly dissipated in the face of the Writer’s Strike, however. The much-awaited second season of the show was essentially D.O.A. with a total of 11 episodes being produced and released in lieu of the planned 24. The severely truncated format led to sharp fall in network ratings, viewership and overall acclaim, though fans of the show tried to remain optimistic and faithful. The plot trajectory had to be altered in order to compensate for the loss of time and a new framework needed to be established for the remaining two seasons of the show. I would go as far to argue that the strike led to Heroes‘ ultimate failure.

Peter v. Sylar. All content belongs to NBC-Universal/Comcast.

Eventually, the show was forced into a corner, inundated with obtuse plot developments and random characters. Like Game of Thrones, the show-runners decided one of the best ways to handle this roadblock would be to start rapidly killing characters off in an effort to trim the fat. Unfortunately, this didn’t work and the series never recovered the success of its first phenomenal season. I am very open about the fandoms which I belong to: Firefly, Avatar, Naruto, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, Parks & Recreation, Community – the list goes on. Fittingly, several of these followings have been perturbed by the repeated threat of cancellation or the harsh reality of flat-out cancellation. There seems to be a correlation between the Writer’s Strike of ’07-’08 and the culture war which derived from the inception of cable TV vs. Hollywood and broadcast TV. The old empires are constantly threatened by innovation in a capitalist system which alleges to incentivize competition while suppressing the autonomy of the writers and producers. The idea that the 80-20 rule for home-video mentioned in TV on Strike leads me to believe that the growing number of disruptive media and technology is a very, very good thing. The writers scorned by Hollywood have an increasing number of lucrative opportunities to pursue thanks to the Internet. While the strike ruined Heroes, I cannot say I blame the workers for uniting in rebellion despite the amount of money lost by the industry and the host of talented writers whose careers were eviscerated. In the financial climate of 2007, it makes sense that even members of the very profitable entertainment industry were fed up with low wages and general disregard for the extent of their labor.

Screen capture of the Heroes Evolutions site and page. All content belongs to NBC-Universal/Comcast.

Heroes floundered in the midst of this strike, but I still feel the need to draw attention to the ingenuity employed by NBC both during and after the strike. Heroes was one of the first series to attempt convergence between TV viewership and online communities/engagement. The network created a webisode series called Heroes Evolutions and an exclusive collaboration with Sprint for mobile content. Few other series during this period were attempting this level of interaction between mobile + digital platforms and the typical, slightly archaic broadcast viewing which was occurring in real-time at prime-time. The show had already commanded a strong, viral presence on and off-line with tag lines such as “Save the cheerleader, save the world”, thus there was a somewhat natural progression which arose throughout the strike. So, while I am still upset that the strike caused the demise of one of my all-time favorite shows, I have to ponder what the positive ramifications were. Sure, Heroes will be returning to NBC this year as a mini-series, but what else has it influenced? The viral and guerrilla marketing campaigns used by so many TV shows and movies from 2007 to current-day have likely taken some cues from Heroes if not other shows during this pivotal time in entertainment history. Conversely, I can’t imagine what the Heroes fandom would have wrought had the show been cancelled more recently. Like Community, Arrested Development or Veronica Mars, would Heroes have been resurrected by an nontraditional, non-televsion based entity such as Netflix, Amazon or even crowd-sourcing via Kickstarter thanks to viewer outrage? In any case, one thing remains certain: the only constant is change. Heroes may have botched some seriously promising material, but NBC and the team behind the show went down with a surprisingly inventive fight.

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