Tuned In: Can 'Heroes' continue to save the day for NBC?

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PASADENA, Calif. -- "Are you on the list?" the new "Heroes" promos ask.

The show is certainly on the Nielsen hit list, helping NBC pull out of a ratings nosedive when the peacock needs a hero most. Here's what viewers can expect to see in the coming months:

More competition: "Heroes" returns with new episodes Monday at 9, facing off for the first time against Fox powerhouse "24."

"I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried that we weren't going to take a little hit from them," said "Heroes" creator Tim Kring. "It's disappointing for any viewer who feels like they want to watch both shows. They're facing a dilemma."

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2007 Press Tour Journal

More Sylar: Though the villainous, brain-desiring character played by Pittsburgh native Zach Quinto was intended to appear only in the first season, it sounds like his stay will be extended.

"I've really fallen for Zach Quinto, and I just think the character is so much fun," Kring said. "I just like the idea of him being around for a while. ... The original thinking was he would last the arc of the season and with the finale we'd find a way to defeat him. But great villains run away and live to fight another day. That's a classic motif."

The show's writers are tossing around ideas for how to show Sylar absorbing the heroes' powers, and so far the thinking is that he does eat at least a portion of their brains.

Quinto said he hasn't worked with several "Heroes" cast members in episodes filmed to date -- including Greg Grunberg, Ali Larter or Leonard Roberts -- but he understands if they might not be eager to be in scenes with him.

"They might be trepidatious to be in a scene with me because it can't be a harbinger of all good things," Quinto said, laughing.

Recently, he's filmed scenes with Sendhil Ramamurthy, who plays Mohinder.

H.R.G. is fluent in Japanese: Claire's father, also know as Horn Rimmed Glasses (Jack Coleman), has a scene with Hiro's father, played by George Takei (Sulu of "Star Trek" fame).

"All my scenes are in Japanese and I did a scene with Jack Coleman -- you take it from there," Takei said at an NBC party Wednesday night. "He memorized all his lines phonetically."

Takei, who is fluent in the language, said the show's Japanese consultant has taught him some new words, including "surrogate father." Hmmm, is that a clue?

"I'm a powerful industrialist from a distinguished, old-line family," Takei said. "I was brought up that way and I thought I would bring up my son that way, but I am discovering there are strange things happening."

An invisible hero: Christopher Eccleston ("Doctor Who") joins the cast Monday as the invisible Claude, an homage to "Invisible Man" actor Claude Raines.

"His character acts as a sort of mentor for Peter, who is having trouble controlling all of this crazy power he seems to have," Kring said. "Peter runs into this character, literally, and forces him basically to teach him what's going on. It's the first indication for the audience that these powers have been around longer than we've sensed, based on what we've seen so far."

Less ambiguity than "Lost": "We're not going to have the frustration level of having to wait several episodes before things actually happen," Kring promised. An attempt to keep fans happy has also been part of the scheduling: The show ran nonstop through early December, took a break and returns for a pod of original episodes through February. Then it will break again and return for in April to run through May sweeps.

Less Zach: Cheerleader Claire's best buddy, Zach (Thomas Dekker), was created as a gay character, an outsider going through the "coming out" process in parallel with Claire coming out as a person with super powers. But in Monday's episode, all vestiges of Zach's sexual identity are gone.

What happened? Kring said it was his intent that Zach be gay, but other forces intervened. Some have speculated that it was the network, but NBC aired "Will & Grace" for years, why would they object to a gay character? More likely, Dekker's management got nervous, especially after Dekker was cast as John Connor in Fox's proposed "Terminator" TV series.

"It's a simple story, but one that has a lot of little details in it that haven't been public so far, and I think we've commented about as much as we're gonna comment," Kring said.

Dekker will continue on "Heroes" for several more episodes and then be gone.

A May cliffhanger: The 23-episode first season will end in May with a one-hour episode that includes a cliffhanger for at least some of the characters.

"We will wrap up the story of the prophecy of this apocalyptic event," Kring said. "I don't think it's any shock that we will somehow save the world."

Battling 'Idol'

The "American Idol" juggernaut continues: Tuesday's sixth-season premiere drew more than 37 million viewers, the highest-rated season premiere and the second-highest rated episode of the series ever.

NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly referred to "Idol" as "the Death Star," prompting one TV critic (not me, surprisingly) to continue the "Star Wars" analogy with CBS executives, wondering what can be done to stop it, other than a plucky band of Rebels.

"That's us," said CBS Paramount Television Entertainment Group president Nancy Tellem.

Programming guru Kelly Kahl said CBS's shows, while not "Idol"-proof, are at least " 'Idol'-resistant."

" 'NCIS' did 95 percent of the ratings it normally does" against "Idol" Tuesday, Kahl said.

CBS's "Criminal Minds," which had been beating "Lost" in the fall, will soon go head-to-head with the "Idol" results show, but "Minds" will get a boost by airing after "Super Bowl XLI" next month with guest star James van der Beek ("Dawson's Creek").

CBS's "Jericho" returns Feb. 21 with new episodes, and "The Amazing Race: All-Stars" begins its sprint on Feb. 18, with Amber Brkich Mariano and husband Rob in the running.

"When does the shelf life of Rob and Amber end?" one critic asked the panel of CBS executives (again, not me, surprisingly). "And please tell me it's soon."

"It's soon," Tellem said with a smile.

Later, another critic prefaced an unrelated question with, "I want to go on record as saying I love Rob and Amber." Several other critics weighed in after that for and against "Romber." The first couple of reality TV are certainly a polarizing force.

Goldblum stars as 'Raines'

Pittsburgh native Jeff Goldblum will star in NBC's "Raines" as a Los Angeles police detective who communicates with the ghosts of murder victims as he's trying to solve the mystery of their deaths. The drama will air at 10 p.m. Thursday for two weeks starting March 15 and then shifts to its regular time , 9 p.m. Friday on March 30.

Goldblum said he'll soon be able to discuss distribution plans for his movie "Pittsburgh," which screened locally during the Three Rivers Film Festival last year.

"It looks like things are in the works for somebody to buy it and give it some kind of presentation," Goldblum said Wednesday. In theaters or on DVD? "I don't know. I'll have to find out about it, maybe this week."

"Pittsburgh" is a hybrid film (part-documentary, part-improvised) about Goldblum's 2004 role in Pittsburgh CLO's "The Music Man."

Future of 'Scrubs'

After the joy of last night's musical "Scrubs," it's understandable that fans would want more. And they may get it. Creator Bill Lawrence said the show is likely to return in the fall, if not on NBC, then on ABC, whose sister studio, Touchstone Television, produces "Scrubs."

The big question is if star Zach Braff will return with it.

"To be honest, 'Scrubs' can go on with or without me," Braff said. "I would love to do it. I'd love to keep working with Bill and the cast. I think everyone's procrastinating on that decision 'til the last second, so I don't know."

Lawrence said Touchstone executives told him not to write a series finale for May.

"I'm not doing Zach walking out the door, because if we're back next year and he's not back, he will come back for an episode and explain why he's not back," Lawrence said.

"I'll come back and find a way to die," Braff joked.

"You're gonna be back," Lawrence said.

As for last night's musical, Lawrence said guest star Stephanie D'Abruzzo, who grew up in McMurray, got the part "because she's crazy talented" and because "she's a psychopathic 'Scrubs' fan.

"She could literally quote lines and bust the writers on continuity issues and talk about Kelso's gay son, Harrison, who lives in the Portland subway system. ... She's a Broadway-style singer. She blew the doors off. She's great."

Channel surfing

CBS has renewed "Survivor" for two more cycles in the 2007-08 TV season. ... Court TV has ordered a 13-episode second season of its series "Murder by the Book." ??? Karen Koenig of Wexford was a contestant yesterday on "Wheel of Fortune."

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com . TV Q&A is taking the week off. It will return next week.


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