While many television shows scramble to figure out how to survive the writers' strike, one show stands out from the crowd — because, prior to the strike beginning Monday, it teleported into the future and went back to tell its writers what it had seen. And while it might be too late for other shows to paint the future, they could save themselves in more ways than one, if "Heroes" were their role model.
OK, so teleporting is a bit of a stretch. But thanks to the "Heroes" comic book style of storytelling, the show won't be in a bind if the writers' strike continues indefinitely, unlike a few other serialized TV dramas.
"I don't know what '24' would do. Call it '9 1/2'?" "Heroes" co-executive producer/writer Jeph Loeb joked. "The problem with serialized storytelling is that if you aren't prepared, it'd be like reading a 500-page book, and when you get to page 378, it's blank. It's one thing to say, 'To be continued,' it's another to stop the story, and we refuse to stop the story."
So the plan with "Heroes," which was created and executive produced by Tim Kring, was to tell as much story as possible, given the limitations. "This break came at a really opportune time," Loeb said. "If it happened a month ago, we'd be completely screwed. But this was not serendipity. We started earlier and worked as fast as we could. We'd be shooting one episode just as soon as another ended."
Which meant Tim Sale, who creates art for the Isaac Mendez character, had to paint like a man possessed — rather fitting, considering what he had been asked to paint. "Since Isaac is gone, it's stuff he did that no one knew about," Sale said. "People uncover a series of his paintings, and it drives a fair amount of the plot."
With the heightened deadline, Sale didn't always have sets or screen grabs to match the images to the crucial eight paintings as well as ancillary art. For a painting of Jessica Sanders — Niki's alter ego — pounding a door, Sale only had design drawings of a house in Montreal from which to work. For a painting of Hiro in 17th century Japan, Sale had a picture of actor Masi Oka in costume but not in character: He was just having a cup of coffee on set. For direction, Sale said, "I was told, 'They're fighting with swords. Go!' "
At least for another painting — of Claire seemingly dead on the stairs — he could work from a direct screen shot, which he only had to make more dramatic: "change the angle, put a moon with clouds across the sky, all kinds of blood dripping off stuff," Sale said. "But it's staggering to me, that they could have shot it that fast."
With everyone at "Heroes" working at top speed, the show's team was able to come up with a second season with two volumes of episodes, comic book-style — and if need be, the volumes could be split into two separate seasons, since they were self-contained. The first story arc, called "Volume II: Generations," lasts 11 episodes, ending with "Powerless," scheduled to air December 3. If the writers' strike continues long enough to be disruptive to air the second story arc, "Powerless" can become the season finale, and the second self-contained arc, "Volume III," could kick off season three.
"It ends in a very satisfying way," Loeb said. "We wouldn't be happy if we had to end early, the fans wouldn't be happy, but in terms of continuity, or story line, we're pretty much tied up. The death of Hiro's father, the nature of the virus, Adam Monroe, Matt and his father, Elle and her father, Claire's relationship with West, all those stories are wrapped up. It's a terrific episode."
Loeb said he can't wait to see how fans respond to the resolution of Hiro's trip back to feudal Japan. "One of the things that's really delicious is that the audience is anxious about Hiro being in the past," he said. "They're like, 'We get it, he met his hero, now he has to make him a hero,' but there's going to be a big reveal. And then people will be like, 'Oh, so that's what you were doing!' "
If the wait in between seasons tests fans' patience as well, there's a wealth of ancillary stories to tide them over too. They were developed as Web comics, nearly five dozen episodes' worth, and the first 34 are now encapsulated as a graphic novel due out Wednesday. The book, which includes stories by show writers Aron Coleite and Joe Pokaski, spills details about the bond between Linderman and the Petrelli family, how Isaac's ability to paint the future manifested in the first place, and who the heck was Hana Gitelman and what happened to her.
Don't expect brand-new comics on the Web for the duration of the strike, however — since payment for Web work is one of issues the writers are striking about — but at the very least, the graphic novel fills in gaps from the show, and at the most, brings to life what "Heroes" is all about. After all, "part of what people enjoy about the show is that it's like a comic book," Loeb said. "It's really extraordinary. They did a spectacular job."