The NYTimes has an article today about some staff changes in the NBC show Heroes.
Heroes is a show about average people who discover they have superpowers. The first season was great because it stayed with a simple theme of these average people learning to deal with their super powers. The second season got off track with some lame story about a virus, and season three which started well has also become a bit confused by too much emphasis on good guys and bad guys, criminal conspiracies, etc.
I love the show and believe that there is a simple fix to the story line. And if you are a NBC exec, or know one, pass this little bit of advice along to them, please.
There are two reasons why Heroes is interesting.
1. The characters are average people with a single super power. They are not Superman who can do anything, but average people who can do one thing remarkable well.
2. The dilemma for each of them is what is the meaning of their super power. Their super power is limited. As a result, they need other people to make a difference. They all have identity issues. Don't we all.
How to fix the story. The current theme of a sinister mafioso like don who steals super powers is complicated by the characters trying to figure out whether their power is to be used for good or evil.
So to fix the story, make the line between the good guys and the bad ones clear. Bad things can happen with one simple action. Good things take time to create, to mature and consolidate into something simple.
Therefore create a new story line that is clear that where the "good guys" collaborate on how they are going to save the world.
We live in a time where people are looking for hope for the future. All of us feel inadequate to make the level of difference that we want to make, so we need other people to do it. We all have talent, some developed, some hidden.
The characters of Heroes are like us, or we are them, needing to do the same thing. They need to build the story line around the cheerleader, Claire, becoming the leader who brings all the characters together to collaborate on saving the world.The original tag line - Save the Cheerleader - Save the World - has been lost in Claire's trying "to fine herself" and the ambiguities of her family life.
In so doing, we gain a vision of future community collaboration, you have a good vs. evil story line, and you see how talented, common, everyday people needing other people to be successful at a higher level than their talent will allow. We do need each other. And the show is the perfect platform for showing this. Done well, and I believe the audience will return.
This is the genius I see in Heroes, and the pathway to how to fix the story. Pass this along if you know someone at NBC.
The third season of Heroes has begun. It is not just "must-see TV." It is a compelling story for our time. It is impossible to tell you everything you need to know about Heroes. It is enough for you to know that this is a story about people like you and me who discover that they have an extraordinary power. Each one has a different power or sometimes more than one.
The power could be to hear and control peoples' thoughts. Or the power to heal, even from the most horrible of injuries. It could be the power talk to machines or to stop time or fly. The powers are individual and special.
Even into the third season, the whole point of the story has not been revealed. We know some people want to do good, others evil. We know some people want to get rid of their power, and others to acquire more. We know that there is a company that is at the heart of the story. We know that it has to do with genetic engineering.
The story is compelling because it shows humanity to be a collection of talented people who require other talented people to be complete. We are all individuals with individual talent and abilities. And many of those strengths are hidden from us because we've never encountered situations where we could use them. We live safe, secure, comfortable lives. As a result, we never truly learn what we are capable of doing.
The story is a great lesson about leadership and team work. It shows how important clarity of communication and collaboration are to achieve good things. It also show how easy it is for one bad person to wreck all sorts of destruction.
We live in a time where visual images become our reference point for understanding who we are and the time we live in. It was this thought that hit me as I read Grant McCracken's post on two new TV shows - In Plain Sight and The Cleaner - that feature a guardian angel motif.
In Plain Sight stars Mary McCormack as a U.S. Federal Marshal who helps relocate witnesses and then care for them when they f*** up, which they do eagerly and often. She is, in other words, a kind of guardian angel.
The Cleaner stars Benjamin Bratt as a ex-drug addict who comes to the rescue of people in need, and then cares for them when they f*** up, which they do eagerly and often. He is, in other words, a kind of guardian angel.
We are drawn to the idea of angelic intervention. But of course TV has too much integrity to go for celestial trumpets, fluffy wings, smiling cherubim. No, televisual angels come in street clothing and street cred. Our angels are troubled, this is meant to make them troubling, and this is meant to turn TV into art.
I don't get to watch much TV. So, I haven't seen either these shows, but I plan to catch up on them at their websites. I understand the idea behind the shows. I understand the connection of a stranger caring for another stranger. I understand being a guardian angel. It is to a large extent a factor in my work as a consultant.
I am a fan of the George Clooney film, Michael Clayton. I am because as I watched it for the first time, I realized that in my work as a consultant, that I'm a fixer. There is a guardian angel aspect to his role in the law practice. He cares for people in trouble.
The guardian angel / fixer theme is a well used theme in film and television. There was the angel in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. Michael Landon was an angel in Highway to Heaven, as was Roma Downey in Touched by an Angel and David Boreanaz' vampire Angel.
What explains this character device?
1. In spite of "rugged individualism" as central theme in our culture, the theme of helpfulness is also present. We see it in the image of the Boy Scout helping the elderly woman across the street. We see in people who take in stranded travelers, abandoned children and stray dogs. I certainly see it in the out-pouring of help for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
A guardian angel is a helper, a servant. For almost a half century, the idea of servant leadership has gained increasing prominence.
So, along with this independent streak is this helpful, servant one that provides a sufficient level of dramatic tension to make stories interesting.
2. I'd like to think that there are some producers, script writers and film companies who also see that there has been a diminishment of the ethic of service in public life. Watch enough TV, and you can't help but be carried away with not just egotism run rampant, but actually sort of the reverse of my first comment. Instead of public life being filled with rugged individualists who are exemplars of servant leadership. We have celebrity figures who have an entourage that follows them everywhere, doing for them what they can't do for themselves.
This reminds me of one of my favorite films, The Emperor's Club with Kevin Kine. In it, Kline a classics professor at a New England prep school, instructs his students about ancient values. Over the door of his class is a plaque commemorating the exploits of Shutruk Nahunte. The plaque reads:
I am Shutruk Nahunte, King of Anshand and Susa, Sovereign of the land of Elam. By the command of Inshushinak I destroyed Sippar, took the stele of Naram-Sin, and brought it back to Elam, where I erected it as an offering to my God, Inshushinak. Shutruk Nahunte - 1158 B.C.
Kline admonishes his class that Nahunte is a forgotten leader because he he was simply ambitious. The the theme of the film as well as of his classs, Kline tells them, "great ambition and conquest without contribution is without significance."
Whether the character in In Plain Sight or The Cleaner are ones who will become significant is unknown. What is known is that legacy is tied to service. As Waite Philips said, "The only things we keep permantly are those we give away."