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In a move which surprised very few, NBC announced today that the final episode of Heroes Reborn would air on January 21st, bringing an end to the attempt to revitalize the series which returned super-powers to television.
The reasons for the show’s poor performance are many, from poor acting to meandering plot, but its failure is indicative of a larger trend which is good news for fans of super-heroic television programming. Heroes Reborn failed because the marketplace has changed.
When the original Heroes premiered in 2006, it was groundbreaking. Previous attempts to bring super powers to the small screen had met with little success. Consider that the closest predecessors to Heroes were Smallville, Birds of Prey, and Mutant X. Other than Smallville, none lasted more than one season. Heroes changed the game, not in what it showed on the screen, but it what it didn’t. Powers were subtle or teased, never rising to the overt spectacle of Smallville. Since the show’s disappearance after the 2007/2008 writer’s guild strike, the ante has been significantly upped. Smallville roared to a surprising finish in 2011 on the strength of Geoff Johns’ shepherding the show’s use of an ever-increasing number of supporting super-powered characters. The CW network shocked the world with the runaway success of Arrow and Flash. Marvel, via ABC, launched a successful slate of shows which avoided super-powers but rode the wave of the cinematic universe’s success, and online platforms like Netflix and PSN delivered high-calibre adaptations of Daredevil and Powers.
These shows succeeded on the basis of high production values, season-spanning super-arcs within the episodic structure, and top-of-the-line casting. When the Heroes franchise returned with Heroes Reborn, it seemed like a campy throwback in comparison. The hackneyed insertion of in-script product placement betrayed the lack of advertiser support from the outset, and the show failed to attract the audience which had once been its mainstay, having lost them to more sophisticated, better-produced programs which featured beloved characters in whom the audience had long-running investment.
In a marketplace which includes Arrow, Flash, Gotham, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, Daredevil, Gotham, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, and Jessica Jones, there just isn’t a lot of demand for a series featuring generic versions of characters and stories rather than the branded originals. It’s like trying to get someone to settle for a single can of flat Mr. Pibb when there’s an entire case of Dr. Pepper tall boys sitting right there.
As sad as Heroes Reborn‘s failure may be for NBC, it means that the good times are rolling for geek television, and we should all enjoy it while it lasts.