Would Heroes be better if it was working towards a specific ending? That's the question asked by Entertainment Weekly recently, leading them to wonder if all SF TV shows should have an endpoint in sight.
According to EW, the Heroes question isn't an entirely hypothetical one - We've heard that NBC's superhero soap may find itself with an end-date scheduled in order to try and re-energize audiences who've found the recent season somewhat lacking, but the magazine is now saying that Jesse Alexander's Day One series may be "better suited" to having a limited run, as well. There's definitely an appealing side to this school of thinking, particularly along the lines of "Once a series has an ending, it becomes a story, as opposed to lots of events that happen after one another," but I can't help but shake the feeling that this whole theory has come about because Heroes kind of screwed things up.
Don't get me wrong; Lost, Battlestar Galactica and - hey! - even Dollhouse may be suited to a limited-run arrangement wherein there's a definitive ending that's being worked towards... but that's because each of these series are as much plot-led as character led; there are questions that power the show that keep the viewers coming back week after week (Even if, as I'd argue happened with Galactica, the show continued past those core questions being answered, and became as much character pieces as story-driven). But that doesn't mean that Heroes should be like that - or, for that matter, was ever constructed to be that way.
Think about it; if an end point was set for Heroes now, what stories would we need to see before we got there? What questions would need answered? We know why Lost has a season and a half left to run; there are things we still need to be told. Same with Battlestar Galactica, even at last year's mid-season endpoint. But Heroes? Not really; the series has an impressively complicated backstory, but not one filled with mystery that needs to be uncovered... In fact, the various elements that have been added to try and add mystery have, largely, been quietly ignored by all but the hardcore fanbase (Some characters having synthetic powers, the various futures, etc.). Heroes' variations in tone, intent and even characterization suggest that the series has never been trying to tell one, grand, unified story all along (Or else, they've been doing so in such a secret/bad way that no-one can tell), and so setting up a cancellation seasons down the line and announcing it seems... Well, almost cruel, really.
Heroes, to me, has always been closer to Buffy or, let's face it, your average superhero comic. It's never been about the plot as much as the storytelling and the characters. Sometimes that's to its detriment (A more plot-led show wouldn't, ideally, have repeated the same "I have seen the future and must change it" McGuffin three times in a row, and some of the characters on the show have received more time than they deserve or than the writers know what to do with - Hi, Sylar!), but that doesn't stop it being a workable model for other genre shows moving forward; the success of Buffy, Angel, Star Trek (any of them!), or practically every network genre show pre-Lost for that matter, shows that shows don't have to be short form, or planned out to the last detail as some massive story arc, to succeed. And, if Heroes hadn't lost so many viewers over the last couple of seasons - for reasons that had much less to do with the format and much more to do with the content - it'd still be the default format for genre network television, I'm sure.
Ultimately, the best format for any television show, be it Heroes or Day One or whatever, is what best serves the purpose of the show. If the show is plot-driven, then let it come to an end, and work towards that end without unnecessary filler or worry about filling a 22-episode order. But if it's not, then there's nothing wrong with just letting the show be itself; if NBC wants to cancel Heroes, then they should cancel it. But if they don't, then they should let the people working on it try to fix it, as opposed to trying to turn it into something that it isn't in the vague hope of a new format magically making everything alright.