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The Problems That Challenge the Rebirth of 'Heroes Reborn'
September 22, 2015  | By Alex Strachan

No new series has it easy, not even when it’s a sequel with a direct creative line to the original. Better Call Saul made good on Breaking Bad, but Saul remains the exception. So much can go wrong. It’s all too easy for M*A*S*H* to turn into AfterMASH.

Of all the new series to debut this week, perhaps none has it quite as tough as Heroes Reborn.

It’s not just that Reborn carries a heavy burden of fan expectation. Many fans remain passionate about the original. Many if not most of those fans didn’t care for the way Heroes fumbled toward the end. Many of those fans took it personally, in a way only genre fans can.

’ last fresh episode aired more than five years ago, in February, 2010. For many of those fans, though, the real Heroes ended on May 21, 2007, with the first-season finale.

A change of regime at parent network NBC, coupled with a change of creative direction, sucked much of the life and energy out of what, up until then, looked as if it was broadcast TV’s freshest, most audacious network drama since Lost.

Then-NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly would later tell this writer that of all the series he helped develop at NBC, Heroes was the toughest to watch go under. Reilly was entertainment president of Fox at the time, and he watched Heroes’ downward trajectory with a mix of helplessness and sadness. Of all the programs he had a personal stake in at NBC, Reilly said, Heroes hurt the most.

“There was a little more to it than that,” Heroes creator Tim Kring said afterward, when I told him what Reilly  said.

“A lot happened there,” he added quietly, without elaborating.

Kring has come back from the dead with Heroes Reborn. Network TV doesn’t allow second chances as a rule, and the reality is that nearly all the actors in the original have moved on. The core idea remains, though. Kring is grateful for the second chance, and bullish about Heroes’ prospects.

The industry has changed in just five years. There’s a growing emphasis, helped along interestingly enough by Reilly during his tenure at Fox, toward limited-run series, based on the cable model of 10 to 13-episode stand-alone series. The format seems ideally suited for sequels — 24, last summer; The X-Files, coming in January; and after that, Prison Break —  and there’s always a chance that if audiences respond and the ratings warrant, a limited-run series can spawn a full-on spin-off series. Behind the scene on The X-Files, which wrapped shooting last month in Vancouver, there have persistent rumors — rumors only — that a spin-off series is already on the drawing board, featuring new characters.

Heroes Reborn
(newcomer Robbie Kay, above) faces another hurdle, though — one that didn’t exist just five years ago.

Social media has changed nearly everything about TV today, from how programs get made to how and where they’re seen. Word-of-mouth has never been more critical to a program’s chances, and now word-of-mouth is instantaneous and widespread. Episodes are dissected in minute detail the moment they air, quite literally minute-by-minute. Genre dramas — science-fiction, superhero stories, live-action comic books — exist in a high-tech universe that allows fans to interact and mingle in real time, as events are happening on the screen.

And despite the attendant buzz, hype and publicity stunts — Heroes Reborn was one of the few TV dramas from around the world invited to the inaugural TV showcase at this month’s Toronto International Film Festival — there’s an almost palpable hostility towards Heroes Reborn in Internet chat rooms, from the very same audience Heroes seems directed at.

That’s not a problem Code Black, Quantico, Rosewood, Blindspot or any of the other new network dramas have. The worst any of those series might face out of the starting block is the occasional crummy review. Sometimes name recognition — and the expectation that comes with it — carries its own burden. Even The Muppets, possibly the closest there is to a sure thing, has a potential downside. If the built-in Muppet audience is in any way disappointed, the consequences will go well beyond whether a single show fails or succeeds.

Here are just some of the pre-Heroes Reborn comments that have been circulating online, before a single episode has aired:

• Watching Heroes Reborn without Zachary Quinto’s Sylar (right) is like watching Breaking Bad without Bryan Cranston. No thanks, I’ll pass.

• No Milo? I’m out.

•  Sounds like a dog to me. (Sorry to dogs.) The original series stunk after the first season. This sounds no better. Should’ve kept the dead dead.?

• They need to do a great job to keep the fans happy. I loved the original. I want to see what comes of the older characters.?

• The first season of Heroes was one of the best in television history. Totally satisfying from beginning to end. And then it became one of the worst series on television. I just hope they’re going on that first season, and learned from the mistakes of what followed.?

I loved the original series and all the characters. And I am more than willing to watch this one. But I just wish they would keep the original characters . . . . you have to have Sylar because he’s a badass and the show would be pretty boring without him. And then there’s my personal favorite,  Peter, because he’s the best, a good guy, not afraid of a fight and always willing to help others. It would just be a shame to throw all of that away.

 If they want to keep us fans happy, bring back our favorite characters. I was interested in it. But now I’m not so sure.

• How is Claire dead??

• Better title: X-Men: Repackaged.

Heroes fans won’t decide Heroes Reborn’s fate, one way or another. Even in this new TV age of fractured audiences, a network drama needs a broad base of supporters if it’s to succeed — not just fanboys and fangirls but ordinary, everyday viewers looking for something to watch after a long, hard day at the job.

“We’re careful about reviving old shows, because it’s really difficult to do,” NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt acknowledged to reporters at last month’s meeting of the Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills. “Every now and then, a good idea comes up. Heroes seemed to be a show that, because there was still a rabid fan base online, we thought a new edition just might be a success. But I do think we have to be measured about how much we look to the past.”

The original Heroes was burdened, financially and creatively, by the demands of 25-episode seasons, Greenblatt added, moments later.

“I think it was a show that would have benefitted from fewer episodes and a more compact season,” he said. “Right now we’re looking at one 13-episode story, with a beginning, middle and end, run consecutively. There will be no repeats, and no changing up the time period in the spring. And for the future of Heroes, we’ll see what happens.

The ability to foresee the future is clearly one superpower that as yet eludes most TV network executives.

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