25 July, 2007

Preview: "Heroes"

Heroes is about a group of people around the world, mostly America though natch, who discover they have developed superpowers, just when the world could be in danger.

I saw the pilot of this last summer and loved it instantly. Sure there are flaws but what kind of love is it if you care about a few imperfections? I thought it would obviously be a huge hit but the trade press reviews suggested that it would only appeal to geeks. I took that personally and thought maybe they were right - but only for a few moments.

Every quality US network show and some really ropey ones had been bought by UK broadcasters but still no-one had bought Heroes. It was doing my head in and so I was relieved, and a little bit smug to be honest, that Heroes became the biggest hit of the new season. But at the same time I was slightly depressed at the UK buyers who bought surefire shits but honestly believed Heroes would have limited appeal. But that's the way the acquisition (and commissioning) cookie crumbles.

The Sci-Fi Channel took the gamble and bought it and were rewarded with its highest ratings ever. The BBC bought the free to air rights and at the LA screenings this summer bought exclusive rights to season two by paying a stupid amount of money for it (nearly half a million quid an episode) in a bidding war. It's a shame for Sci-Fi who had the foresight to buy it first but for the viewer, it's very good news: it'll be in widescreen and there will be no ads.

Heroes was created by Tim Kring who brought us crime procedural Crossing Jordan which I didn't like all that much, although it lasted six seasons before it's surprise cancellation. There were some character and story choices Kring has made with Heroes that I could quibble with but he fixed them as the season went on.

The pilot, although good fun, is a bit muddled and tries to set-up too much. It was going to air in the US with episode 2 back to back but didn't. I agreed with the decision as that would perhaps be too much information to take in but the BBC (as did Sci-Fi UK) are showing episodes 1 and 2 back to back. The advantage of showing both together is that a major popular character is introduced in part 2. Be patient for a few episodes while they sort themselves out and you will be rewarded.

Science-fiction is notoriously difficult in getting a mass audience but Lost changed that by not being about the science fiction but by being about characters affected by science fiction. Heroes learns that lesson and it's clear from the outset that it's about people learning to cope with changes in their body that make them freaks. Hiro is stuck in an office cubicle doing a dull job and he loves his power but single Mom Niki hates what's happened to her and is scared by it.

It turns out that Kring consulted with the Lost producers on how to sustain a series with major mysteries, which makes sense, although it's clear that Heroes has learnt from the mistakes of Lost and has a single story season arc - while setting up nail-biting cliffhangers and mysteries for next season.

I say single story but on reflection there are many stories which happened to be focused on that single story. By concentrating on character, the story takes care of itself. It's brilliantly done.

Interestingly, when the writing team works on an episode, each writer takes a character and writes the individual scenes surrounding that character. These stories are then combined and given to the episode writer, allowing every writer to contribute to every episode.

Heroes perfects the art of the cliffhanger and I'm sure that some people will just have to buy the DVD before the season finishes. At least a couple of the episodes rank highly in the list of all time greatest TV drama. Highly recommended.

Heroes, BBC2
Wednesday, 9:00pm



Pilot screenplay (pdf))

Tim Kring interview (by Damon Lindelof of Lost)

Tim Kring Sci-Fi UK interview

Beware of spoilers:

Greg Beeman blog

Jeph Loeb podcast interview

Bryan Fuller interview

Q & A with Joe Pokaski and Aron Coleite


Lee said...

The BBC, Channel Four, and Sky all seem to have nearly bottomless pockets when it comes to buying shows - how about actually making some?

Half a million quid an episode is not far off what these shows cost to produce in the first place. If the Beeb took their twelve million and put it towards new programming, maybe they'd end up showing I'd make an effort to watch, not something I'd already downloaded the better part of a year ago.

Lee said...

All the same - for anyone who hasn't seen Heroes yet: damn good show, don't miss out.

Yvonne said...

I totally disagree with your limited assessment of Crossing Jordan.

First off, the show aired for six seasons on NBC and can now be seen daily on A&E. Secondly, the crime drama was consistently well acted, written and had some of the best music on television. The episodes were centered on the lives of the morgue and police characters which made it interesting. The viewer was given an opportunity to actually care about the somewhat disfunctional characters as they watched them evolve,grow and go through live with the same issues that folks face in day-to-day life.

Crossing Jordan was a drama that remembered character driven and did not give in to the technology push that is so familiar on numerous other televsision shows.

Tim Kring's Heroes never would have made it to the air but for the success of Crossing Jordan!

Robin Kelly said...

Lee, there was a time when buying imports was more cost-effective than producing home-grown but soon it will be cheaper to buy every viewer the DVD. They paid 300 grand an ep for 3lbs so, as Heroes is about 14 times better, they probably think they have a bargain.

Yvonne, I thought it was six seasons but when it checked it looked like five. My bad maths. And I just said I didn't like it, I didn't say it was bad.

It's the kind of mid-level show that does what it does well but I prefer things I can't wait to watch not just things I can watch if there's nothing else on.

Steve said...

Heroes is superb, I hate to use the phrase but it is "must see". And it's great that people will get to see it with no adverts.

31 characters in 5+ episodes and another 37 (!) in 2-4 episodes. You may have to take notes.

Andy Conway said...

If we discount Battlestar Galactica (because, despite being stunning and damn near perfect in every way, it was already on season 3), this was my favourite TV series of the last 12 months.

I really couldn't wait for the next episode. And it made 24 seem very dull and very tame. That's how good it is.

Oli said...

Heroes got 4.3m (19.8%) on BBC2 last night. Either that's a lot of geeks, or there's something of a crossover going on.