Heroes will definitely be back next season despite the decline in ratings. However, NBC is planning a shorter season, trimming down the previous 25 episodes to a run of 18 to 20 installments for the fourth season. Additionally, the network is also looking at running the season in one long block, similar to 24 on Fox or Lost on ABC. That means fans can expect those episodes to run closer together in order to minimize storyline interruptions.
"The serialized action-adventure dramas, if you think about Lost and especially 24, making it once a year makes it that much more special -- and it also saves you money if you have fewer episodes," said Shari Ann Brill, senior VP-director of programming at Aegis Group's Carat.
Heroes getting a shorter season isn't really that surprising. Nowadays, most major networks are experimenting with shorter seasons for their broadcasts, and considering Heroes' wobbly state, less episodes are likely to work in the show's favor as opposed to most serialized dramas that suffer creatively with longer seasons.
NBC has another reason to cut back the number of episodes of Heroes. The show premiered to strong ratings in 2006, but has slipped to about 7.7 million viewers on average since the 2007-08 writers strike. According to Nielsen, that's 4 million fewer than it earned before the work stoppage.
Meanwhile, this will be a relief for cast member Adrian Pasdar, who plays flying U.S. Senator Nathan Petrelli.
"If things start shifting around, they can always add more at the end, but doing 25 episodes this year was nearly 11 months of work," he said. "We love the work, but in order for the quality to be maintained, you can't just keep grinding it out.
"The pacing will be a little better -- we were sometimes shooting three episodes at once, and there's no way that something doesn't slip through the cracks. It just gets crazy. This will make it better for everybody, and ultimately for the viewers. It will be a more streamlined version of a show that's very complex. It will still maintain its complexity, but I think it will be easier to follow," he added.