HEROES. 9 tonight, Channel 10.

'SAVE THE cheerleader, save the world."

Like so many slogans whose fine print includes such disclaimers as "not valid in 48 of the 50 states," or "reported side effects include loss of memory and/or body parts," the first-season rallying cry for NBC's "Heroes" probably should have ended in an asterisk.

*For purposes of this guarantee, "world" is defined as New York City and that portion of its residents equivalent to 0.07 percent of the earth's total population."

Yes, at a time of year when most TV shows are trying to attract viewers by staging weddings, tying favorite characters to the railroad tracks or promising "shocking" surprises, "Heroes" came back from hiatus a couple of weeks ago with what much of the country might have regarded as reassuring news.

Not from New York?

Not to worry.

In fact, by the time Linderman (Malcolm McDowell) finished describing the destruction-to-come to Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar), the whole thing was beginning to sound like a surgical strike, a regrettable but unavoidable cleanup of midtown Manhattan not unlike Rudy Giuliani's efforts to drive the hookers out of Times Square.

Here's what really worries me about the bleak picture "Heroes" painted last week of the world five years hence:

Future Hiro.

Sure, we've seen the soul-patched one before, when time stopped on the subway (as it so often does) and Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) got his orders regarding the cheerleader.

But we didn't learn much more than that Future Hiro (Masi Oka) speaks better English than Present Hiro.

Now, though, we know that in the years since the blast, he's not only shed his glasses, but his delightful sense of humor.

Not to mention his sidekick, Ando (James Kyson Lee), who learned last week that he'd died in the blast five years earlier.

Head starting to hurt?

Mine, too.

NBC's decision to take the series off for weeks at a time rather than run out of fresh episodes before May sweeps has already done a number on its ratings.

One thing that won't help is spending too much time with the grim-faced time-traveler, even if stopping Hiro's transformation now seems at least as important as preserving the penthouses of Wall Street investment bankers.

Ditch the soul patch, save the show.

When points get pushed

Filmmaker Ofra Bikel's documentaries have made her name as a champion of the wrongfully convicted.

Filmmaker Ofra Bikel's documentaries have made her name as a champion of the wrongfully convicted.

Tomorrow night, in "When Kids Get Life" (10 p.m., Channel 12) the PBS' "Frontline" producer focuses instead on a handful of men who might better be described as perhaps wrongfully sentenced.

The question of whether juveniles should be tried and sentenced as adults is a thorny one, and is undergoing re-examination as we learn more about the adolescent brain.

But in cherry-picking a handful of Colorado cases in which there appear to be extenuating circumstances involving convicts who are likely to appear more sympathetic to a wide audience, Bikel's not only stacking the deck, she's hurting the larger argument.

If there are indeed biological reasons we shouldn't hold teens as responsible as their elders for their actions, then that has to apply to even the least presentable offender, not just the ones with articulate parents and passionate, media-savvy lawyers. *

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