Families Flock to NBC's Harsh 'Heroes'

So, how did Tim Kring, creator of NBC's Heroes, end up on a panel at last week's Family Friendly Programming Forum in Beverly Hills? “Save the cheerleader, save the world,” the cryptic imperative that drives the series' titular heroes, does have a wholesome ring to it. But somebody must've missed the episode in which the cheerleader mangles her hand in a garbage disposal.

Indeed, despite its often brutal violence—and the fact that its heroes include an Internet porn queen and an artist who shoots dope to paint apocalyptic prophecies—Heroes is a breakout hit with fans of all ages.

The show, which airs at 9 p.m. ET, is the No. 10 primetime network series among kids 2-11, and NBC's second-highest-rated series in the demo, behind Deal or No Deal. Among kids 12-17, it ranks sixth overall and No. 1 for NBC.

“We were trying to get a hip audience of twentysomethings and college kids, but I have been taken by surprise by how many families watch the show,” Kring confessed at the forum.

The Parents Television Council, which gave the show its dreaded “red light” rating, will be glad to know that Kring and crew are rethinking the show's violence, given the young audience.

“I feel like we have to back off some of the very graphic stuff,” Kring acknowledged.

Still, he added, the show's comic-book spirit demands that characters take a beating from time to time: “The genre calls for a certain amount of violence. The cheerleader sticking her hand in a garbage disposal still gets an 'Ooh!' in a good way.”

O2 Gone Wild

For its new reality series, The Bad Girls Club, the Oxygen cable network is encouraging its female target viewers to post video of themselves being “bad.” But the network may regret its decision to let the “bad girls” run the show.

Rather than vet the clips for objectionable content, Oxygen will let the community of users police itself, à la YouTube or Wikipedia.

Cynthia Ashworth, Oxygen's senior VP of marketing, says the show and its site have a tongue-in-cheek vibe that will deter users from posting inappropriate content. By the word “bad,” Ashworth says, “we mean having fun and maybe pushing the envelope.”

The show, from Real World production company Bunim/Murray, follows seven young women who live together and strive to abandon their “bad-girl ways.” There's Ripsi, a spoiled rich girl with “anger issues”; Jodie, a straight-laced office worker by day, “sexy social butterfly” by night; and Leslie, an adult entertainer looking to leave the life.

But Ashworth isn't worried about Oxygen's getting burned by letting the girls go wild.

“When we say 'bad girl,'” she says, “we don't mean 'prison bad girl.'”

Lock and Load

As if reality-show contestants weren't dangerous enough, the World Hunting Association (WHA) now wants to arm them and send them into the sticks.

The WHA, a competitive hunting league based in Michigan, issued a casting call last month for a reality-TV competition, inviting entrants to submit short video clips of themselves stalking and bagging game. In January, submissions will be posted to WorldHunt.com, where WHA members can vote for finalists to compete on camera.

WHA Commissioner/CEO David Farbman, 35, founded the league in June with the aim of creating a “social-networking and marketing platform for the outdoors.” The league has taped and streamed two slickly produced 25-minute episodes of its competitive hunts. The goal, Farbman says, is “to build through ITV” before “going out on the box,” ideally on a network like ESPN2.

The league has been criticized by hunting and outdoor groups for its enclosed hunts and its ambition to make hunting a competitive sport.

But Farbman says resistance has “all cooled out,” thanks to outreach among hunters and WHA's decision to abandon its initial use of tranquilizer darts—a practice that drew the mockery of The Daily Show in September.

For those who've never known the thrill of the hunt, the site has a virtual hunting game. And for those who just want to see chicks with guns, the WHA Girls are waiting for you.

With Ben Grossman and Anne Becker