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James Hibberd



‘Heroes’ and the Writers Strike

November 2, 2007 1:45 PM

HeroesNBC's flagship drama "Heroes" is one of the highest-rated and most critically acclaimed shows on television, yet one would never know it from reading recent reviews and fan message boards.

The backlash started with last season’s finale, which jacked audience expectations through the roof for an epic showdown. Showrunner Tim Kring promised fans his scripted finale would play “like a $90 million movie,” then had characters chatting in an empty plaza. Viewers howled. Later it was reported that Kring was unable to shoot his planned finale due to running into a budget crunch.

This season, “Heroes” has recreated feudal Japan using a Southern California orchard and a few extras in period costumes. Entertainment Weekly recently bashed the new season for sloppy writing, as well as “myriad worldwide locales that all look like the backlot of ‘M*A*S*H” and “mediocre special effects.” Now the show’s planned spinoff, “Origins,” has been canceled, with some network insiders blaming the pending strike, and observers blaming the flagship show’s recent ratings drop.

Likewise, CBS’s ratings-challenged “Jericho” earned a renewal earlier this year by building to an epic cliffhanger that had the township going to war with a neighboring burg. After wrangling a budget for a second season, showrunner Carol Barbee says the story will resume after the battle, with only a few brief flashbacks showing the fight itself. Making a much more cautious reference to theatrical films than Kring, she jokes, “It’s not going to be like the opening of ‘Saving Private Ryan.’”

Both cases could be dismissed as showrunners being overly ambitious, writing epic stories that over-reached their small-screen budgets. But there’s an argument to be made that there’s a larger issue at play, and it parallels the rhetoric coming from the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers as the minutes tick closer to a strike.

The AMPTP’s refrain is that show budgets are going up and ratings are going down.

But you can add another industry stressor that’s less tangible, but equally significant: Audience expectations for the quality of scripted shows keep increasing. Every time a “24” re-sets the bar for an action drama, or “The Office” for a comedy, or “Grey’s Anatomy” for a prime-time soap, the creative cost of entertainment rises.

And in the case of recent complaints about some of the most ambitious shows on television, the seams are showing as high viewer expectations are bumping up against bottom-line reality.

“The expectations for shows keep getting higher and higher,” said one network and studio advocate. “Ratings are going down. Repeats are not working. Last year, the top shows were inexpensive reality shows. If networks put on the dancing bears and that’s what people want to watch, then they’re going to make dancing bear shows.”

It’s a point often met with skepticism. While moderating the HRTS luncheon, “Pushing Daisies” executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld warned that his “Daisies” budget better stay high enough to hold up the standard set by the pilot—yet also criticized network chiefs for not stepping up to pay more during writer contract negotiations. Critics bash NBC for its Nissan Rouge drive bys on “Heroes” and for stretching “The Office” to an hour, not realizing the network is desperately trying to avoiding putting on dancing bears, or keeping Hiro on the backlot or, worst of all, having more NBC Universal layoffs.

That audiences increasingly expect scripted dramas to match the quality of summer movies is hardly a new sentiment, but it’s an even greater challenge than that. Top showrunners feel enormous pressure from fans who expect their writing, week after week, to exceed that of summer tentpole hits. Amazingly, it often does. And when the writers stumble, there are loud online complaints that quickly manifest as sharp ratings drops (such as last season with “Lost” and “24,” and this season with “Heroes”). Even as the AMPTP beats its drum about the numbers no longer adding up, it knows there’s one aspect that’s not expendable in this complex creative and budgetary equation if scripted shows are to survive: High-quality writing.

So either shows need to be cheaper, stories less ambitious, viewership increased or the networks need to find new ways to monetize the content.

The AMPTP may be right that a writers strike will be a dangerous blow to the scripted drama business, but writers are correct to place a premium on their services. Either way, the parties seem to lack the same realization: They need each other, more than ever.

Click here for complete coverage of the strike.

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Comments (20)

Kelly Hughes:

You're bang on. However, it does seem to me that international sales, DVD sales, and off-net cable sales are a lot stronger than they used to be. Surely, this helps on the back-end, no?

Arcadia:

This is a very nice point

"And when the writers stumble, there are loud online complaints that manifest as ratings drop quicker than ever (such as last season with “Lost” and “24,” and this season with “Heroes”). Even as the AMPTP beats its drum about the numbers no longer adding up, it knows there’s one aspect that’s not expendable in this complex creative and budgetary equation if scripted shows are to survive: High-quality writing."

People choose to watch specific shows, or refuse to watch them, for all sorts of reasons. Some formats get worn out. Star Trek fell apart because the producers kept trying to Xerox a Xerox, and cover it up with gimmicks ("Look! The Captain's a woman! Look! The Enterprise looks primitive, like a submarine!"). Yawn.

I wouldn't allow my teen son to watch Heroes on a regular basis last year because it was so repulsively gory -- a factor about which even Steven Spielberg complained at the time. We quit watching The Office because the shows's humor got so dirty. We got bored with Bionic Woman for all sorts of reasons already thoroughly vetted on blogs like this one -- gloomy settings, anti-heroic protagonists, lame action, logic and continuity holes you could drive Oscar Goldman's retirement package through (and oh how I wish Oscar Goldman would make an appearance!).

In fact, our family is generally disgusted by all the gratuitously gory TV programming -- all the CSIs, the Criminal Minds, et.al.

Gore, profanity, lewd humor, and libertarian propaganda aren't "adult" or "mature", and they don't make a show worth seeing. We're not into violence porn. It's our job as parents to protect our kids from it as best we can, so we find we have to shut most of it off. I hate the current flood of anti-heroes, dystopias, and social-political soap operas. And we aren't interested in seeing close ups of superating wounds or pulsating eyeballs. So we just watch the news for the weather, sports, and a couple of shows we like (such as Chuck).

I'd watch a show with modest production valiues but that had sharp writing, sharp performances, and that didn't bathe me in blood, sex, and nihilism.

Tom Wolper:

You omit a problem with network shows which is structural: the show has to be designed to go to 100 episodes for syndication. This leads to two problems: story arcs that have to be dragged out, and the rise in price each year for producing the show.

For the first point, consider a hypothetical showrunner being told, "You have 13 weeks to tell this story and the 13th hour will solve the mystery," to the writers for Lost having to stretch their mystery, and keep their viewers engaged, for at least 100 episodes.

For the second point, maybe it's time for the networks to adopt a limited run scripted series. There's no chance of reaching syndication, but there's also no renegotiation of contracts for the second season and no worry about losing producers, directors, writers, or actors to better offers.

These are all good points, though I really can't see why so many people are disenchanted with "Heroes" this season. It's still the show I look forward to most each week, and I'm enjoying it.

Wayne:

"People choose to watch specific shows, or refuse to watch them, for all sorts of reasons. Some formats get worn out. Star Trek fell apart because the producers kept trying to Xerox a Xerox, and cover it up with gimmicks ("Look! The Captain's a woman! Look! The Enterprise looks primitive, like a submarine!"). Yawn.

I wouldn't allow my teen son to watch Heroes on a regular basis last year because it was so repulsively gory -- a factor about which even Steven Spielberg complained at the time. We quit watching The Office because the shows's humor got so dirty. We got bored with Bionic Woman for all sorts of reasons already thoroughly vetted on blogs like this one -- gloomy settings, anti-heroic protagonists, lame action, logic and continuity holes you could drive Oscar Goldman's retirement package through (and oh how I wish Oscar Goldman would make an appearance!).

In fact, our family is generally disgusted by all the gratuitously gory TV programming -- all the CSIs, the Criminal Minds, et.al.

Gore, profanity, lewd humor, and libertarian propaganda aren't "adult" or "mature", and they don't make a show worth seeing. We're not into violence porn. It's our job as parents to protect our kids from it as best we can, so we find we have to shut most of it off. I hate the current flood of anti-heroes, dystopias, and social-political soap operas. And we aren't interested in seeing close ups of superating wounds or pulsating eyeballs. So we just watch the news for the weather, sports, and a couple of shows we like (such as Chuck).

I'd watch a show with modest production valiues but that had sharp writing, sharp performances, and that didn't bathe me in blood, sex, and nihilism.
"

You sound like a) a fucking moron b) a prude whos more obsessed with characters in his shows reflecting chirstian values then reflecting real people and c) someone whos kids, clearly hate them, thank you

Waynes A. Puss:

You sound like a) a f*****g moron b) a prude whos more obsessed with characters in his shows reflecting chirstian values then reflecting real people and c) someone whos kids, clearly hate them, thank you

Posted by Wayne | November 3, 2007 9:04 PM

At least he had guts enough to use his full name, and smarts enough to spell correctly.

JoJo Dog:

I can tell you why I'm disappointed in "Heroes" this season. This season of "Heroes" seems to be morphing into "4400".

Aaron:

Look at the world around you. We're at war. Violence is everywhere... the world isn't a happy little place where nobody gets hurt and everyone lives in a cheery little Utopian society. It's a gloomy place, it's a violent place, and art reflects society. If you're sick of all the doom and gloom and violence, don't complain about the heathen TV programmers, look to your god-fearing leaders and ask them what's up.

JoJo Dog:

Aaron:

You're right. If only the people who grew up during the Depression and WWII had less uplifting and cheery entertainment from screwball comedies and musicals, their lives would have been so much better.

This argument about movies and TV needing to be darker and realistic to be art is ludicrous. This even goes for music. Seriously, what will be remembered 50 years from now, Louis Armstrong or a gangsta rapper of your choice? One focused on positive messages and (dare I say) light entertainment while the other is grittier and more "realistic".

There is a simple formula from old Hollywood had that has been forgotten by writers today. I'll spell it out for you: romance + action + comedy = money. Notice it is not: sex + gore + cursing = money. Hollywood forgot this. Bollywood hasn't. Which is making a better profit percentage-wise? Bollywood.

Since I brought up Bollywood, I'm going to go full circle. Does Bollywood focus on the poverty or violence in India? No. Does that mean there are no Indian films about poverty, war or terrorism? No. But most of the films from Bollywood end with "a cheery little Utopian society".

1. TV isn't art, it's entertainment.

2. There's no rule written down anywhere that requires art or entertainment to be repulsive.

3. People who like to watch violence, repulsive gore, porn, and get turned on by profanity are sociopaths who go on to do things like shoot innocent kids at Virginia Tech, or store child porn on their computers. It's wrong for the media to feed those appetites in a person.

4. War and violence are caused by the absence of respect for God, rebelling against God's command to love your neighbor, exalting yourself above everybody else around you, and selfish hatred for your fellow human being. I wish all our leaders really did "fear God" rather than just pretend to, it would make them more honest. You talk as if believing in a moral code that's higher than your own grotesque selfish pleasure is a bad thing.

5. Violence, blood, porn, and profanity aren't any more "real" than the birth of a baby, a happy birthday, love, unselfish sacrifice, or honesty. Again, only self-pitying depressives and burning psychopaths think that way.

Jordin Rausch:

I am pretty sure they did the whole happy heart warming feel good show. It was 7th Heaven. It went on and on and on and on and on, until every pertinent topic in the news was taken, chewed up, and spit onto our TV screens as a feel good message. It was a popular show and It worked. There are other shows just like this one for those who do not like the "violence and gore". Now heroes is a TV show made to resemble a comic book. Comic books in themselves, especially those dealing with heroes, are gritty and violent and dark. Furthermore, it is the well balanced show that everyone should be looking for. A show with pieces of the dark and gritty, as well as the honest and wholesome. Too much violence is just fan service, but too much in the other direction is just the same.

Now I know bashing people in a forum is just bad form, but coming back by calling them out on their spelling is unoriginal and ineffective when dealing with that sort of thing.

Furthermore, I have to say that censoring too much television and other forms of entertainment, especially prime time TV, can be just as bad as not censoring anything. It is controlling and shows a lack of trust in your children. If they are too young to fully understand it fine, but to ignore it and pretend it does not exist is not really a good choice. I personally think it would be better to let them watch and then discuss what it is you just watched. Make sure that they see it as entertainment and fiction and make sure that they have it placed into context for the real world. Ignoring stuff because you deem it uncouth and distasteful just leaves your kids unprepared for real life.

Mike:

"1. TV isn't art, it's entertainment.

2. There's no rule written down anywhere that requires art or entertainment to be repulsive.

3. People who like to watch violence, repulsive gore, porn, and get turned on by profanity are sociopaths who go on to do things like shoot innocent kids at Virginia Tech, or store child porn on their computers. It's wrong for the media to feed those appetites in a person.

4. War and violence are caused by the absence of respect for God, rebelling against God's command to love your neighbor, exalting yourself above everybody else around you, and selfish hatred for your fellow human being. I wish all our leaders really did "fear God" rather than just pretend to, it would make them more honest. You talk as if believing in a moral code that's higher than your own grotesque selfish pleasure is a bad thing.

5. Violence, blood, porn, and profanity aren't any more "real" than the birth of a baby, a happy birthday, love, unselfish sacrifice, or honesty. Again, only self-pitying depressives and burning psychopaths think that way."

Posted by Jack Brooks | November 8, 2007 5:33 AM


Let me tell you something, I'm not violent but I have no objections to watching it on tv as an entertainment show. And guess what, I don't believe in the existence of any god.

Please don't make sweeping generalisations.

joan:

Heroes is the reason i and many of my friends even turn on the television for any reason other than news and weather. seriously without shows like this ratings will continue to drop

funky:

Heroes is the reason i and many of my friends even turn on the television for any reason other than news and weather. seriously without shows like this ratings will continue to drop

Ben:

I agree with funky heroes is awesome. The ending of the first series could have been better but the second series is still awesome. I just hope that it doesn't end after 11 episodes as i think it would end it badly like the last series.

James Stoll:

"1. TV isn't art, it's entertainment.

2. There's no rule written down anywhere that requires art or entertainment to be repulsive.

3. People who like to watch violence, repulsive gore, porn, and get turned on by profanity are sociopaths who go on to do things like shoot innocent kids at Virginia Tech, or store child porn on their computers. It's wrong for the media to feed those appetites in a person.

4. War and violence are caused by the absence of respect for God, rebelling against God's command to love your neighbor, exalting yourself above everybody else around you, and selfish hatred for your fellow human being. I wish all our leaders really did "fear God" rather than just pretend to, it would make them more honest. You talk as if believing in a moral code that's higher than your own grotesque selfish pleasure is a bad thing.

5. Violence, blood, porn, and profanity aren't any more "real" than the birth of a baby, a happy birthday, love, unselfish sacrifice, or honesty. Again, only self-pitying depressives and burning psychopaths think that way."

Your a piece of shit. Please keep religion to yourself to adopt a less ignorant perspective. Nobody cares if you do not let your children watch gory shows, that is your choice and we respect that. However, people should not have to limit their shows to suit people like you. They should be allowed to play whatever they want, and if people do not want to watch it, they don't have to . Simple as that. So shut the fuck up.

Mike:

Amen to that James.

(If you spot the divine irony, you get a cookie.)

June:

First of all, relating to the article and the writers' strike, writers do deserve to be paid high wages for their services. Writers are the people that actually make shows what they are; without an actual plot there is no show. These facts have never seemed to be reflected in the amount of credit, money, and general respect that writers have usually recieved.

People complain about TV shows' writing, and the writing isn't always the most excellent work ever created, but the only ones with a right to complain too loudly are those people who are just as talened writers as those of network TV shows.

Tom Wolper also makes a good point: shows are written with the difficult condition that their plots, which must have a conclusion, must also be expandable: a major problem, besides budget, that movies do not face.

People that do write TV shows for a living are artists who did not enter said profession for money. Perhaps producers and company bosses are interested solely for profit; however, one does not decide to dedicate their life to fiction writing with the expectation of earning large monetary rewards. The people who actually make the shows do so for the love of their art and the enjoyment gleaned from putting their creative talent on display for the public. The type of creative people who make up TV shows would probably do so even if it didn't pay. Of course, if the products of their imaginations do turn a profit, they should recognize their entitlement to a fair share of that money.

The point is, artists such as writers have the right to add as much violence and sex as they want to their shows. If any individual viewer doesn't like the content of a show, that viewer has the right not to watch it, but must still recognize the rights of others to watch the show. (Network TV shows really aren't that bad anyway.)

Imposing the views of a particular religion or belief in any god is not the purpose of basic TV programming.

Subjects such as violence, gore, sex, drug use (you forgot that one) etc. are maure subjects in that they should be handled with maturity; viewers should see deeper than the surface. Not all sexual content serves the same purpose as porn; not all violent content is a metaphorical gladiator battle of spectical; TV shows do not exist to encourage violent, abusive, or sexual behavior. Scenes dealing with these sujects are not just created for the blatant pleasure of watching them. If that's all you see, it says more about you than about the shows. If the stylistic choices of Heroes (a show based on comic books) prevents you from enjoying the plot (which is, after all, about spectacular powers and world-threatening crisis), your loss.

TV was created to explore the most extreme conditions that a human imagination can produce, not the mundane reality of life. Thus, it is obvious that TV and real life are two different things. People who would apply TV-like violence to real life situations are already affected by dangerous mental issues. TV can't be blamed for people who don't have the rational and moral skills to know not to shoot people or blow up buildings.

Actually, most of the great and enduring literature ever written have been about dark subjects. Once humanity stops being dark in nature, that may stop (it will never happen). Of course, if someone wants to make a show about perfect worlds, that's also their right. (Such shows probably wouldn't produce nice cliff-hangers or serve as engaging TV dramas.)

In case it's not obvious, I love Heroes. There was a great scene from the first season: Peter walks into the apartment and sees blood dripping down; he looks up to find Suresh on the cieling, whispering "Cyler" with his bloody mouth as the music beomes dramatic... This is an example of how darkness, drama, and gore work perfectly to make an exciting scene. Heroes deserves all the money it can get.

POLI:

HEROES is in trouble because it's stolen work and a copyright infringement lawsuit that was filed in a NYC Federal court in March 2007 is having a chilling effect on the shows storylines and ratings.

Heroes storylines are controlled by this lawsuit and not Tim Kring's non-writing skills. I am working on a doc about this lawsuit and my doc will show how a thief hack writer like Tim Kring would have the gall to go online with other writers asking for the right to make top dollar on material he's stolen from other artists.

to read more about this lawsuit and to get all the answers to your questions of" what happened to Heroes"
log on to www.reuters.com, www.dowjones.com , google Enjai Eele, Amnau Eele or read comments by Poli on all Heroes site and google joann Vara this person works in the tv and film industry and
she's posted a lot of info online about this lawsuit.

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