Creator of Heroes. How it got started, the internet fanbase, and where it’s going.
Global consciousness, and how I as someone with a hit TV show can hopefully raise that consciousness. When I was young I was a total geek, but anyone can stumble into greatness. This is a hugely powerful message for people, it’s the reason or the huge success of the Harry Potter series. At the heart of that success is the idea, potent wish fulfillment, that even the most neglected of us can be chosen for something extraordinary. I was a terrible student in school, had difficulty learning to read and write. Was interested in nature, found solace in the natural world around me.
I remember having experiences of sensing an overwhelming connectedness to everything and everyone. I was having these peak experiences that were shaping my consciousness even though I wans’t fully aware of what to do with that. Unable to articulate that, I internalized them, made them something wholly my own. There were very low expectations for a kid like me. No one expected much, but I sort of did. Just wasn’t sure what form it would take and how it would show up. I could prove people wrong.
Let’s jump ahead a few decades… graduated college as religious studies major, was interested in photography and film, went to USC Film for graduate. Worked at the B, C, and D level of Hollywood production. Just worked any job he could get. My classmates wo were getting ahead were doing it by writing scripts. Being a screenwriter is still the best and fastest way to enter into the film business. Anyone can be a screenwriter, you can be a weirdo or deviant and it doesn’t matter. In Hollywood they say if Hitler wrote a great screenplay they’d send a limo to the airport to pick him up.
Got started writing a cheesy episode at Knight Rider. I was drawn to the solitary lifestyle, which carries with it some irony, because I ended up working in series television which is the most social of all screenwriting careers. It’s very intense. Was staffed on many shows, working with other writers. My writing started to draw on these themes of interconnectivity that I had internalized as a kid. One of those assignments led to me creating a show on my own, Crossing Jordan. First year was a constant battle with the network about the creative soul of the show, saw it as a spiritual theme around death and existence, the network saw it as a crime drama, with action and tied up in a nice neat bow every week. Didn’t wield much power at the time, and chose keeping the show on the air, 117 episodes and 6 years. 1 out of 85 shows makes it to a fith season, it’s a very small group.
I became a bankable show runner and creator. In the last year I was given a development deal which meant that they guaranteed me a chunk of money to come up with a new show for them. When it came time to pitch, I waited and the phone didn’t ring. Since I started with NBC it had gone from #1 to #4 in the ratings, the new network president had come in with a mandate that he would completely reinvent the network. He was going to go to Sundance to get drama, an edgy nightclub in New York for the new comedy stars, young and inexperienced was what they were looking for, and that wasn’t me. Having a show on the air for six years had turned me into a journeyman hack. I had sublimated my own creative instincts and asked “how high” when they said jump.
I got pissed off and really anger. Great creativity comes from everywhere, I was flubbed and I didn’t just want a show on the air, I wanted something big, bold, and wanted to prove them wrong. Only problem was I didn’t have an idea, so I was just left angry and worried about it.
I knew I needed that could exist on multiple platforms, primarily the internet. Viewers are getting harder and harder to find in traditional television. You need DVD sales, a literary arm, take advantage of the internet, else you’re at the mercy of the slipping Nielson ratings. Lost and 24 had come around and proven that these serializations could really work, and did very well internationally. Charles Dickens had written some of his best novels as serializations in the newspaper, with a cliffhanger each week. I became obsessed with these interlocking stories told in very short brush strokes, haiku storytelling. Audiences need far less story than they used to, they’re so sophisticated in the elements of storytelling. They want to guess, predict, be wrong, be right, they can be mad, frustrated, all of that is fine, all you don’t want is indifference.
Had the format, just needed an idea. My wife an I are raising kids, I’ve become obsessed and concerned with the way the world is these days, and what they’ll be inheriting. Where will the heroes come from? We can’t rely on government or institutions. It’s a post 9/11 idea that the heroes will come from all around it. But the problems are so huge, global warming, climate change, etc, what sort of characters could deal with this? So assumed a new wrinkle, that we as a species could adapt, and what would those first mutations of natural selection look like? Build a show around this, a message of hope and interconnectivity. Make the characters like you and me. Pushing it through network development was going to take everything I had learned as a writer over 20 years. In the right hands it could be awesome, in the wrong hands it could be a pile of. I lied and cheated and schemed and manipulated all the way through the idiocy that is the notes process when you do this, was able to push the production through relatively unscathed and in the form that it would work in. I finally gave that kid who stares out the window a voice. That’s how Heroes got on the air.
It’s not the most original idea in the world, you build and borrow. Just put these pieces together in the right way, at the right time, and on the right network. The archetypal narrative is a very powerful form of storytelling. It can create a collective experience, in our case it created a community. We launched it at ComicCon in San Diego. We had 3,000 screaming and breathless fans that had somehow heard of this show, 3 months before the first episode aired. They drove them to a website, and the early adopters talked and chatted and created their own websites, an unbelievably amount of buzz and took the mainstream press by surprise. The fans grew into a true community.
Here’s all these people connected by this message of saving the world. IT would be criminal not to do something positive with that demographic. We can build a community around this idea of global consciousness. As far as the future is concerned, TV an the internet is merging, and that’s the heart of why we’re striking right now, there’s going to be a dynamic involvement between the fans and a show, we’re moving into the Long Tail of niche entertainment. A future where a show and its fans will have a greater interwoven relationship, feeding off of each others input, creating material together. Ordinary people like you and me come together to do great and noble things.