The fans are hoping "Heroes" can be redeemed after consecutive lackluster seasons.
(NBC Official Press Release)
The newest volume of "Heroes," which begins with a two-hour premiere on tonight at 8 p.m., is aptly titled "Redemption." While it may refer to a personal quest for its main characters, the real redemption story lies between the show and its fans.
It's been three years since "Heroes" debuted and quickly became a commercial and critical success. During the first year, the show averaged 13.8 million viewers an episode, the phrase "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World" was instantly adopted into pop culture lexicon and the show was awarded with eight Emmy nominations, including one for Outstanding Drama Series.
But times have drastically changed.
Last season the show averaged only 7.75 million viewers an episode and was weekly blasted by both critics and fans. The steep decline in viewership and universal drubbing was not unwarranted, though. Plots were halfheartedly connected, the supporting cast grew too large, and core characters became shadows of their old selves, seemingly switching allegiances on an episodic basis.
Worst of all, the storytelling became incredibly repetitive, predictable and sloppy.
All of these problems did not go unnoticed by NBC. Jesse Alexander and Jeph Loeb, co-executive producers and staff writers since the show's first season, were let go. The upcoming season's episode count was also cut down to 19 and it was moved from the 9 p.m. time slot it had always occupied.
All of these signs point to "Heroes" being placed on the endangered species list, giving the new season extreme importance. Another disappointing year would likely lead to the show not being renewed for 2010. A return to glory, however, could bring new life to the show and establish a firm foundation for the show's future.
So which version of the new season will fans receive?
Looking back at the end of last year, "Heroes" was beginning to head in the right direction. The last quarter of the season produced the season's best episodes. Characters seemed to rediscover the qualities that had originally endeared them to fans, and the show refocused back on personal relationships, a strength of the first season that had long been abandoned.
The bad news is that while the show improved greatly over its last seven episodes, they all had less than seven million viewers, an indication that "Heroes" might be unable to gain back the fans it had already lost.
Further complicating matters is the departure of writer and consulting producer Bryan Fuller, a fan favorite who had recently returned to the show. A significant contributor during the show's first season (he wrote the episode "Company Man," which is considered by many to be the show's finest episode), Fuller left before the second season when ABC picked up his series "Pushing Daisies." When "Pushing Daises" was cancelled, Fuller returned to "Heroes" for the final quarter of the third season and was praised for helping turn the show around.
However, Fuller did assist with the story arcs for the upcoming season before he left, giving hope that the show at least knows where it is headed.
But will that be enough? Do the writers and producers have an actual game plan?
Will the "Nathan is really Sylar" storyline work or will it be unnecessarily dragged on so long that the fans lose interest and eventually loathe it? How has the action of turning Sylar into Nathan affected Matt, Angela and HRG?
Can Hiro's "bucket list" journey stir up real emotion? Will reuniting him with Charlie for an episode be more than a stunt?
Will Peter ever get his original power back?
Is Tracy's story worth seeing?
Will Claire finally grow up and stop being the annoying teenager?
And how will the addition of Samuel and his carnival gang affect the show? Will it make the show have an overabundance of characters again or can the writers bring them into the storyline seamlessly?
These are just a few of the questions in the minds of "Heroes" fans as the show enters its fourth season. The show must respond with the right answers and quickly, as judgment will be immediate. After being let down for the past two seasons, the fans will not be silent if the season premiere fails to impress.
A lackluster start to its fourth season is not something "Heroes" can afford since the show's redemption lies with the fans. Already skeptical, fans will be more than willing to turn away for good if they aren't given a reason to watch. If that happens, then the show will find itself headed toward cancellation.