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Setting Heroes Straight

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On NBC’s Heroes, the character Zach (Thomas Dekker)–the best friend of indestructible cheerleader Claire–was not supposed to  be one of the superpowered characters. It turns out, however, that he has the amazing power to transform himself from a gay teenager to a straight one. According to gay-news website afterelton.com, that’s precisely what happened to the character, who apparently was meant to be gay by the producers, who ended up backpedaling on the storyline, as creator Tim Kring writes in a cryptic e-mail to the site. "It has simply become too complicated behind the scenes to push this issue further with this particular character," Kring writes, without detailing just who or what made it so complicated.

My gaydar is probably no better or worse than any urban straight man’s, but I always thought Zach’s character could have gone either way. Sure, there were ample hints–other kids teased him about being aroused in a locker room and said he should wear a tiara to the homecoming dance, but if being called gay actually made you gay, then there would be an approximately 90% male homosexuality rate in American high schools. On the other hand, Zach certainly seemed to fit the traditional role of the weird, geeky best friend with a secret crush on the popular girl (the Xander, shall we say, to Claire’s Buffy).

But that’s neither here nor there. If the creators wanted to plant the rainbow flag on Zach, why mess with their plans? One possible culprit, of course, is the network, though why NBC would care seems a bit puzzling. It hardly minds having gay characters on many, if not most, of its other primetime shows. Maybe it raises delicate issues to have a gay teen on a series, but that’s hardly new ground either. The most plausible reason would be the belief that fans wanted to see a Claire-Zach romance. But the fans seem to feel just fine about how the creators have run the show so far, so why not let them run it? Network execs love to believe that TV hits only exist because of the genius wisdom of their meddling notes, but when a guy gives you your only genuine new hit off the fall and brings 15 or 16 million people a week to your floundering network, you may just want to leave him the hell alone.

TV Guide’s Michael Ausiello, however, has fingered another plausible culprit, however: Dekker’s management, who may have been spooked about the effect of playing gay on his future career. It seems odd, since Dekker has apparently played gay before–and, hey, it sure screwed Tom Hanks’ career, didn’t it?–but this is, after all, precisely the kind of paranoia that earns handlers their percentages. However mighty the superheroes or their creator, when they get in a showdown with a Hollywood agent, you know whose powers to bet on.