'Heroes' Opts for Fewer Episodes Next Season

Like ABC's 'Lost,' NBC Aims For Less Interruption of Story

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Can a new format save "Heroes"?

NBC is expected to trim the number of episodes of its sci-fi drama it airs next season, according to people familiar with the situation, and also run those episodes closer together to avoid interruptions to the story line week by week. The network is considering running 18 to 20 episodes of the series in the 2008-2009 season, those people said, down from 25 this season.

'Lost' viewership
2004-05: About 12.8 million live-plus-same-day viewers
2005-06: About 13.4 million
2006-07: About 13.8 million (split season: a few episodes in first half, with most in second half)
2007-08: About 11.8 million (all episodes in second half of season)
2008-09 (through April 19, 2009): About 9.82 million (all episodes in second half of season)
Source: Nielsen Media Research

The strategy isn't as distinctive as it once would have been. ABC and Fox have condensed "Lost" and "24," respectively into the second half of the TV season for several years. And CBS is experimenting with a 13-episode murder-mystery serial called "Harper's Island" that, if successful, could be replicated with a new plot and scenario each time it appears.

But it's becoming clear that the broadcast networks, under pressure to cut costs as ratings continue to erode, are taking a page from their cable cousins. Rather than deploy the normal set of 22 to 25 episodes that play out between September and May with a number of interruptions and repeats, the broadcast outlets are winnowing down the number of episodes they air for selected programs.

'24' viewership
2004-05: About 11.9 million live-plus-same-day viewers (first season in which it started in January, not September)
2005-06: About 13.6 million live-plus-same-day
2006-07: About 12.4 million live-plus-same-day
2007-08: Did not air
2008-09 (through April 19, 2009): About 11.6 million
Source: Nielsen Media Research

"The serialized action-adventure dramas, if you think about 'Lost' and especially '24,' making it once a year makes it that much more special -- and it also saves you money if you have fewer episodes," said Shari Ann Brill, senior VP-director of programming at Aegis Group's Carat (of course, the format of "24" requires 24 episodes).

NBC has other reasons to cut back the number of episodes of "Heroes." Despite cultivating an avid fan base during its debut in the 2005-2006 TV season, the show has lost audience and buzz. Before the writers strike of 2008 shut the series down, "Heroes" was attracting an average of about 11.6 million live-plus-same-day viewers, according to Nielsen. This season through April 19, the program has snared an average of 7.7 million, Nielsen said.

The writers strike and "story-line issues" have contributed to the program's decline, Ms. Brill said, but the current story arc "really has picked up a lot. I don't know if the audience has followed."

Harper's Island
'Harper's Island' viewership
First episode, April 8: About 10.2 million live-plus-same-day viewers
Second episode, April 16: About 7.8 million
Source: Nielsen Media Research

The strike has wreaked havoc on ad spending on the program as well. In 2007, when a full run of episodes appeared in both the back half of the 2006-2007 season and the first half of the 2007-2008 season, "Heroes" snared more than $156 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence. In 2008, when no episodes aired in first half of 2008, "Heroes" attracted about $61.7 million. Top sponsors of "Heroes" in 2008 included Sprint Nextel Corp., AT&T, Procter & Gamble Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Apple, General Electric and Nissan Motor, according to TNS.

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