So now we know that NBC is paying attention to all the complaints about the direction of Heroes, and has fired two of the show's co-executive producers in response. Now they're rumored to be considering bringing in Pushing Daisies' Bryan Fuller to replace them. But what changes - if any - will the loss of Jeph Loeb and Jesse Alexander bring to the superhero soap? And are they the right changes to save the show from itself?We reported the departure of Loeb and Alexander yesterday morning, with the news breaking Sunday evening; with the exception of Alexander posting the news on his blog ("I write this with a heavy heart. As of today I am no longer a writer/producer on HEROES.") and a short, generic comment from Loeb to Comic Book Resources, neither have yet commented publicly on their removal, nor have NBC or show creator Tim Kring, leaving a lot of people wondering what's going on over there. Many people inside and outside of the TV industry are pointing to Entertainment Weekly's cover story about the show's third season troubles as the final straw that forced NBC into action, but the question still remains - was firing Loeb and Alexander the right action? I think that it's definitely a step in the right direction; Loeb and Alexander were often credited with being in charge of the writers' room at the show, and many of the problems that EW (and us, as well, but at least we didn't get anyone fired) were story-based - but without Loeb and Alexander there, who is in charge of the writing of the show? EW's own report of the firings said that it "was unclear" if the two producers would be replaced (although subsequent reports are now suggesting otherwise), which leaves it equally unclear who'll step in to provide the show's direction, storywise, from now on. The careers of both Loeb and Alexander can also be used to identify some of the show's problems in terms of writing - The sudden reveal of Sylar's Petrelli heritage, his nonsensical turn towards being a good guy, the return of the previously dead Arthur Petrelli and overall uneven juggling of a far too large cast seem reminiscent of Loeb's past as an Marvel Comics writer from the 1990s - although the show lacked the stupid fun of his more current work like Hulk or Superman/Batman - and the never-ending plots and unconvincing personal traumas of the characters harkened back to Alexander's beginnings on Alias. The obvious suggestion would be creator Tim Kring himself; after all, he appeared to be aware enough to identify and own up to the problems of the show's second season last year - problems that, tellingly, Loeb denied existed in interviews - but that's doesn't necessarily mean that he has the time, availability or even the ability to turn around the show's current creative direction; look at the ways that the third season has gone overboard in the opposite direction (and, at the same time, returned to old and tired themes and plots) in trying to course-correct from last year. There are many other producers on the show, but none of them have the writing experience - or the geek chops - of the axed duo, which doesn't necessarily bode well. Axing some more of those producers - including Kring - is, of course, still an option for NBC, who are said to be unhappy about the show running over budget currently. Were Loeb and Alexander really in charge of the purse strings? It seems unlikely. Kring is apparently already under pressure from NBC to simplify the show, showing that the network isn't relying on the removal of Loeb and Alexander to save the show alone. Also a problem, at least in terms of perception, is the nature of the move; NBC axing executive producers of an underperforming, high-profile, show brings to mind memories of last year's perpetually-endangered Bionic Women relaunch, where the (admittedly low) quality of the show eventually became irrelevant because the real story became the behind-the-scenes problems... Problems that NBC were never really shown to be able to fix (BW went through, what, three creative teams on eight episodes of that show?) - leading to an impression that the network couldn't fix its own problems... which won't help with this situation.
The best case scenario for both NBC and Heroes as a series, is getting new producers in place who can revitalize the writing of the show, bring a new discipline to the series that will silence critics, and have some level of nerd cred to reassure the hardcore fans that it won't become ER Plus Flying Dudes. E!Online is claiming that NBC want Bryan Fuller to return to the show post-Pushing Daisies cancellation (although that isn't necessarily a done deal yet), and Meredith's already suggested Steven DeKnight as another alternative, but I'm thinking of a couple of people a little more unexpected (and a little more employed): Drew Goddard and Brian K. Vaughan, both currently at Lost. Goddard's experience on Lost, Alias, Angel, Buffy (not to mention Cloverfield) show that he's good with the fantastical, multi-character, labyrinthine nature of a show like Heroes - and also that he's able to pare back a lot of the growth to get to the core of the stories, emotions and concepts necessary to make said series work - while Vaughan brings a similiar comic book experience of superpowers, superhero teams and longform storytelling to Loeb, but with the addition of better (or, at least, more subtle) character work and a fresher eye towards how to deal with the stereotypes of the genre. Whatever happens next, however, one thing's for sure - Sunday's firings has taken Heroes from being a troubled show to a symbol of NBC's problems as a network; their stepping in to try and fix the show in such a public way has meant that it's going to become a priority for the people in charge - and one that they can't afford to mess up. Save the Cheerleader Show, Save the Network.