LOST Media Mentions - DarkUFO

Thanks to Annika for the heads up.

New "Heroes" webisodes premiere April 20, featuring made-for-the-web vignettes starring the regally named guest player David H. Lawrence XVII. On the DVD, series creator Tim Kring chats with the actor about how these peripheral online tie-ins "round out and explain things for the audience."

Frankly, given the NBC program's steady ratings decline this season -- down nearly 50% from its second-season average -- the exchange felt a bit like fiddling while Rome burned, or at least getting so distracted preparing side dishes that you've ignored the entrée is ablaze.

The "Heroes" story parallels that of "Lost," another sci-fi drama that burned insanely bright -- brighter than most fare in this niche-oriented genre -- before inevitably cooling. Contrasting the way these franchises have been managed is enlightening, and perhaps provides a blueprint for what to do and avoid when networks are lucky enough to stumble upon scripted pop-cultural sensations (an increasingly precious commodity) going forward.

"Lost" quickly went viral on its own, and ABC and Disney were all too happy to try cashing in on that. They produced tie-in books, dribbled clues on the web and courted die-hard fans, who obsessed (as they are wont to do) over every crumb the producers tossed out.

In 2007, though, at the urging of producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse (and -- hand firmly on back --yours truly), ABC grudgingly made an extremely savvy decision: Recognizing that the "Lost" balloon was gradually losing altitude -- and might drop further, faster, without some promise of closure -- they agreed to set a 2010 end date. That point was far enough away to cushion the blow of losing a hit but still a gamble, since nobody wants to shed a show that still has life in it.

In hindsight, that timetable has proved liberating to all parties. The producers can give their fans a program that's every bit as arcane as they've come to expect. And as more casual viewers drift away -- especially with "American Idol" as competition -- ABC needn't panic about the Nielsens.

Premiering in 2006, "Heroes" was clearly determined to follow in "Lost's" footsteps by ratcheting up the merchandising while the iron was hot. After all, these were sci-fi aficionados, whose ardor is only matched by their willingness to devote money and time to the things they really like.

So NBC -- which produces the series through Universal Media Studios -- rolled out webisodes and announced subsequently aborted plans for a quasi-spinoff, "Heroes: Origins," to keep the goodness flowing when the serialized flagship took a breather.

The only problem was that the series appeared to be drifting off course, having chewed through so much story its first season that it stumbled into dead-ends and hit potholes during its second. Key staff firings and apologies followed. "The message is that we've heard the complaints -- and we're doing something about it," Kring pledged to Entertainment Weekly.

The network has already announced that "Heroes" will continue next year, but the fact that was even a question indicates how far the mighty have fallen. The most recent installment delivered a rather unheroic 6.8 million viewers and finished fourth in its slot among adults 18-49. A loyal core remains, but while the standing ovation the show received last summer at Comic-Con probably felt good, it's a false positive for the larger audience, and in the bigger scheme of things, such approbation only goes so far.

To be honest, it's not clear anybody is to blame for this. Not every program these days is meant to run for years on end. For each "Law & Order," there's plenty of "Prison Break," which should have wrapped up after two seasons, and finally will in its fourth.

The "Lost" brain trust recognized this dynamic earlier than most, wisely embracing the show's mortality. As for "Heroes," the producers appear determined to attempt another on-the-fly reboot, hoping to return to its strengths and rebound to its earlier form.

Still, sci-fi series aren't immune to reality, and the plain truth is programs rarely add or recover audience that's been lost -- especially when everything in today's culture seems turbo-charged, as media outlets pile on a new sensation, virtually ensuring hits flare up and fizzle more rapidly.

In this environment, even for a high-flyer like "Heroes," the inexorable pull of TV's gravity can be a real bitch.

Source: Variety

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