Program’s mistakes show the importance of narrative coherence. 

Hayden Panetierre of Heroes TV seriesThe NBC TV show Heroes, a widely acclaimed program just a year ago in its first season, slid badly in audience numbers during the first half of this year’s TV season, and has lost much support among the show’s fans.

In fact, in response to the criticisms and decreasing ratings, a couple of week’s ago the show’s creator and driving force, Tim Kring, apologized to the fans, saying that his team had underestimated the viewers’ willingness to sit through long expository sequences as opposed to wanting the action to move forward.

Audiences had been willing to accept the exposition in the first season because the stories were just getting established, Kring realized, but the second season introduced new characters in extended sequences without integrating them into the main story line and advancing the stories of the holdover characters from the previous season. (Especially dismaying was the producers’ decision to set numerous long scenes in medieval Japan without moving the narrative forward at all.)

Most egregiously, perhaps, the great threat to mankind that the heroes would have to avert in the climax of the first half of the season was not revealed until several episodes had passed.

Fans were confused and disappointed by the awkward narrative structure, and ratings went from not-great to worrisome to dismal. The numbers for last Monday night’s episode, the much-promoted grand finale of the first half of the season, were actually lower than the previous week’s.

The program will be on hiatus for a while, as the writers strike continues, so there will be no new episodes for the foreseeable future. The producers had planned to fill in the gap between the first and second halves of the season with a spinoff series called Heroes: Origins, but had to cancel it because of the Hollywood writers strike. In the meantime, fans of the show will have to content themselves with the various graphic novels and other Web extras.

Whether the show can survive the loss of viewers’ confidence after the storytelling mistakes of this season’s episodes is a question that will not be answered until well after the writers strike is resolved.