Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Too Many Heroes?

I was talking about Monday's season premiere of Heroes with my friend Peter at work today. We both agreed that the addition of Maya and Alejandro as the newest "Heroes" is yet another Nikki and Paulo just waiting to happen. Interestingly enough, a recent article by Matthew Gilbert in Slate talks about The Plague of Cast Overpopulation, specifically using Heroes as an example, saying about the ever-growing cast, "You almost want to write up name tags: "Hello! I Am _____ and My Power Is ______."

Gilbert traces this practice back to the diverse "casting" of reality shows:

"Survivor showed producers and networks that cramming a series with actors of various ages, colors, personalities, and body types could increase the odds of attracting a broader, bigger, and potentially even international audience."
The pros of a large, diverse cast are not only the large, diverse audience it may attract, but also the security it gives the networks come contract negotiation. If Hugh Laurie holds out for more money, most likely he's going to get it as there wouldn't be a House--uh, well, without House. But if one of the cast members on heavily populated shows decides to be a squeaky wheel, chances are they might not be getting any grease.

Another benefit to mass casting comes during those harvest periods (aka "sweeps") when writers have license to do a bit of pruning or weeding (hear that, Ellen Pompeo?) says Gilbert:
But shows with massive casts can give their writers license to kill—or, as they say so poetically on reality TV, "eliminate"—characters without damaging the show's DNA. In the last few seasons, Lost, 24, The Sopranos, Desperate Housewives, and Heroes have all goosed their ratings and left fans buzzing by rubbing out a character or two.
Heroes is upping the ante this session with a midseason, six-episode miniseries, Heroes: Origins in which one new hero will be introduced in each hour and viewers will vote, American Idol-style, to put one of them in the cast of the regular series. I have a better idea--let's have a viewer vote on which character to KILL OFF during sweeps! You could have a results show ala Dancing with the Stars (which is on in less than an hour!) and Tom Bergeron could tell each Hero or Grey's Anatomy doctor or Brother or Sister or Desperate Housewife, husband or son or daughter who was safe--or who was in the bottom two.

I'm not sure all this can be blamed on Survivor. Richard Hatch, Elisabeth Hasselbeck--yeah that's Mark Burnett's fault. But large ensemble casts in dramas can be traced back to--soap operas. And aren't all these serialized dramas really just soaps when it comes down to it? So, if there's any sweeps-induced "eliminating" coming up, my money's on Maya and Alejandro to buy the farm. Of course, as we all know, no-one ever really dies on a soap opera...


  1. Found you by googling Hugh Laurie, and then found your post very interesting. The reasons you give for why showrunners might want large casts are very interesting, but honestly - don't you think the aggregate salaries of the cast members of Heroes are more than the aggregate salaries of the cast of House? I can't even imagine the circus that is making call sheets for Heroes.

    Lost and Heroes are two shows I haven't been able to follow closely, and it is partly because of the large casts - I usually only like about half the people, and somehow always see the episodes where they have most of the story. Whereas, if you like Hugh Laurie, you're pretty much taken care of.

    I think the other reason I don't follow them is because of their intricate mythology. Don't you think it tends to winnow the audience after, say, one season? It starts to feel like homework after a while.

  2. I've no doubt that the budget for Heroes far exceeds that of House. Except for American Idol, Fox does not have the ratings of the "big 3" networks. You make some excellent points in your comment. You should check out the article at Slate (link is in the my post)--you'll find that you and the author of the article are pretty much on the same page where large casts (and the difficulty identifying or even following along with all of their subplots) are concerned.

    Another friend and I were discussing this at work--we're thankful that none of the new series look all that appealing. It's difficult enough keeping up with the shows we've been watching! As for winnowing the audience--that certainly happened with Lost and I think you'll see it with Heroes this season--and perhaps Grey's Anatomy (which I am soooo over) as well.

  3. It's funny you mention not watching new stuff this year, because it looks to me like the networks have backed off of the "it takes a village" concept in a big way. Most of the new shows seem to be promoted with one or two characters, and they really don't seem to have that many overall.

    I suppose it makes me an old-fashioned 1970s type viewer, that I tend to prefer episodic to arc, but I don't necessarily want the characters *unchanged*, I just don't want to have to remember a conversation they had 12 episodes ago to make sense of plot today.

    I have to do that at work enough for anyone.

    I lived in LA for a summer in 1992. Do the weatherpeople still do the smog alert?

  4. "I just don't want to have to remember a conversation they had 12 episodes ago to make sense of plot today."

    I laughed when I read that! I get your point, but for some of us that's part of the fun of it! That's what makes Lost such great watercooler programming. You can spend hours dissecting and hypothesizing each episode.

    But I can certainly understand those who have better things to do with their time than to get sucked into online discussions of whether or not Kate is pregnant, scrutinizing screencaps at Lost Easter Eggs or reviewing plot theories at Lostpedia. To each his/her own, eh?

    You know, in the almost eight years I've been here, I don't remember hearing any smog alerts. CA has been VERY aggressive with their anti-smog program. We still have smog, but I don't think at the levels that it used to be...

    The weatherman are big on "onshore flow" or "marine layer" as they current favorite catch phrases. We get alerts for mudslides (Stormwatch 2007!) and wildfires, but not so much for smog...

  5. I do actually like an intricate, involved backstory - was a total addict of Babylon 5 and watched soaps for years when they still *remembered* their own histories. But I think there's a difference between having in-depth knowledge that enhances your viewing experience, versus in-depth knowledge that's required to make the thing make any damn sense at all. (Not speaking of Lost here, really - the stories are usually pretty easy to engage in even without encyclopedic knowledge.)

    I have liked a lot of what I've seen on Lost. I just wish they had hewn more closely to their own premise of being cut off from the world, and we saw a few more realities of that. Them finding all that stuff in the hatch reminded me a little too much of how useful stuff washed up on the shore or fell from the sky on Gilligan's Island. I felt that way about Star Trek Voyager, too - if they're alone in the quadrant, how do they keep losing shuttles but never running out and coming up with fresh uniforms and patching up big damn holes in the side of the ship? I mean, there's scifi, I get that, but if being cut off is part of your premise, own it!

    The other thing I wonder, based on anecdotal experience with my friends, is whether or not DVDs have taken away a lot of viewers for the more complicated shows. I have several friends who are not watching Heroes and Lost, in anticipation of buying or netflixing the DVDs later to devour in large chunks.

    The main thing I remember about the weather my summer in LA was that there was actual dust on the trees because we had no rain for weeks and weeks. And I was in my first and last earthquake.

  6. When they first starting doing promos for Lost I thought, oh great--it's Gilligan's Island with prettier people. It actually took me a while to get into it.

    And speaking of earthquakes, we had a little one (2.7) in Santa Monica this morning.