For weeks, even in the face of Heroes’ bottom-dwelling ratings, conventional wisdom among TV-industry insiders has been that NBC was leaning heavily toward bringing back its once-mighty superhero series for a fifth and final thirteen-episode wrap-up season. But as NBC has become more confident in its slate of new shows, all indications are that our Heroes are dead.
Believe it or not, this is actually something of a surprise. Even though less than 5 million die-hard fans bothered to tune into last February’s season-four finale (down from a peak of just under 17 million viewers who were watching at the start of season two), observers had figured NBC would find a way to keep Heroes around, if only as an insurance policy in case all of its new offerings flopped this fall. And since the show is wholly owned by NBC Universal, some speculated that the money generated by DVDs and international sales of the show would be enough of an incentive for NBC to give the show one more shot.
But when NBC executives got a look at the new pilots they had ordered (five have already been commissioned as series), they fell in love with their own handiwork; the network felt far better about these new shows’ potential than they did about Heroes’. Even though there’s no guarantee that any of the newcomers will work, there’s a lot more upside to giving a new contender such as J.J. Abrams’s Undercovers the time to find an audience rather than yanking it off quickly and begging viewers to give Heroes one more shot. As a result, according to agency sources and chatter around Hollywood, Heroes has started looking less like a backup plan and more like a waste of money.
However, NBC (which declined to comment for this story) is nothing if not appreciative of the few Heroes fans who still care about the saga and doesn’t want to leave them hanging. While a half-season appears to be out of the question, we hear there’s a good chance the network will at least try to find a way to fund a two- or four-hour movie event in order to give some finality to the franchise. Those discussions haven’t taken place yet, however, since NBC still hasn’t officially told Heroes creator Tim Kring his show is canceled. Networks like to hold on to as many cards as possible headed into their annual upfront announcements (NBC’s is on Monday), in case some last-minute development suddenly shifts the scheduling equation. This time last year, for example, the obits for Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse had already been written when Fox stunned TV types by giving the show another (futile) shot.
In the case of Heroes, however, you can probably stick a Kensei sword in it: It’s done.
It will be sad if the series don’t return to have a decent end…