Time: The Serial Killer

I have been to the future, but I forgot to bring my PVRSo, just after delivering a pair of mythology-expanding episodes and ending on a crucial plot point (oh, so that’s how Peter gets his scar), NBC’s increasingly incredible “Heroes” is taking another break. There won’t be another new episode until April 23rd.

I ask you, is this justice?

More to the point: Is this any way to tell a serialized story? Six-week gaps between cliffhangers seems … unfair, somehow.

Sure, we’re used to longer breaks with movies — six months between the “Back to the Future” and “Matrix” sequels didn’t seem so bad, and nobody’s too torn up about waiting almost a full year for the third installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean” — but this is television, man! We’ve been taught to want our gratification instantly!

This is an apparently insoluble problem for TV network programmers, who’ve been struggling with the nature of episodic television for a while now. Do you alternate new episodes with repeats, as has been the tradition for decades, or do you run the shows straight through over 22 weeks, and then let your property sit unexploited for the other half of the year?

Fox seems happy with the latter solution for “24”: The season starts in January and runs straight through to May, after which the show just disappears. And in December, those episodes pop up on DVD to stoke interest in the upcoming season.

The producers of “Lost” tried something similar this season, running six new episodes in the fall and then vanishing into some unseen hatch until February. But the show’s deliberate pacing worked against that strategy; by the time the second wave of episodes began, a number of viewers — my wife, for example — had given up on the show ever explaining its key mysteries. (I can still get her to watch the new episodes, but I know she’s just indulging me.)

I’m beginning to understand the appeal of watching entire seasons of a given show on DVD. Of course, that assumes said show will survive long enough to merit a DVD release; the network graveyards are littered with promising series that were smothered in their infancy, and never finished their first order of episodes. Are “Day Break” and “The Nine” ever likely to appear in limited-run sets? I doubt it.

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for being part of the conversation while a show’s secrets are unfolding. I’m still enjoying “Lost” — and isn’t it intriguing that a show that appears to be about the battle between faith and reason demands the viewer’s faith in it all coming together somewhere down the line? — and I continue to look forward to each ridiculous new development in “Prison Break”, although I’m starting to worry that the material won’t survive the stretch to a third season.

And if you’d prefer more self-contained narratives, there’s always “House” — returning tonight after its own three-week hiatus.