Showrunner to refine tone, simplify storytelling

The catchphrase from the first season of “Heroes” was “save the cheerleader.” This season, it could be “save the scripts.”

With the NBC fantasy-drama taking a hit in the ratings and falling short creatively in the eyes of many fans and crix, series creator-exec producer Tim Kring has been under pressure to make some changes. There’s been a feeling that he’s delegated too much responsibility for writing and story development to his top writing lieutenants, co-exec producers Jesse Alexander and Jeph Loeb (Daily Variety, Nov. 3).

On Sunday, at the prodding of NBC execs, Kring made the tough call to let Alexander and Loeb go from the show that the duo had helped shepherd since season one. Kring has assured NBC and Universal Media Studios brass that he intends to focus on simplifying what’s been criticized, even by ardent fans, as an overly complex storytelling structure to get back to the show’s comicbookish good vs. evil themes and to emphasize character development more than plot twists.

Insiders close to the situation emphasize that Kring has been a hands-on and diligent showrunner. The big problem is that the show’s large ensemble cast and intense f/x and post-production requirements suck up a lot of his time. And “Heroes,” already one of primetime’s priciest hours at $4 million-plus per seg, has been grappling with budget overruns.

Now, the thinking is that his focus is needed most in breaking stories and refining the tone of the show for the remainder of its third season.

“Heroes” is averaging 10.4 million viewers and 5.1 rating/12 share in adults 18-49 so far in its third season. That marks a 21% drop in total viewers and an 18% decline in adults 18-49 from its second season (which was cut short by the writers strike), even with delayed DVR viewing factored in. Nonetheless, it is NBC’s highest-performing scripted series.

The multiplatform success of “Heroes” in its first season made Kring a sought-after speaker at industry events and confabs. He’s traveled far and wide to tubthump the show and discuss its evolution through online extensions, vidgames, licensing and merchandising and other ancillary biz opportunities.

But one upcoming speaking event may now prove a little awkward: On Nov. 15, Kring is skedded to appear at the Screenwriting Expo at the L.A. Convention Center, with Alexander and Loeb.

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