Exclusive: Heroes’ Tim Kring, One Year After

Last year, when Superhero Hype! spoke with Tim Kring, creator of the NBC drama “Heroes,” he seemed like a pretty smart guy–you can read that interview here if you missed it–but talking to him a year later, he might as well be a genius. Without having a background as a comic book reader, Kring assembled a team of writers and an amazing cast that’s been able to recapture the spirit and quality of the writing in today’s comic books in a way that Hollywood has seemingly been unable to duplicate in most of the feature films based on comic book characters produced so far. On top of that, he took such an unlikely premise and turned it into a hugely popular show that’s even been nominated for Emmys and Golden Globes!

With that in mind, we were psyched to get another chance to talk to Kring and find out how things have changed from his original plan in the year that took “Heroes” from a clever idea to a global phenomenon.

Superhero Hype!: Since I haven’t spoken to you since the show started, congratulations on its success.

Tim Kring: It’s been a wild ride.

SHH!: I have to say that I’m really impressed with how well the show’s been received.

Kring: Yeah, it’s certainly got a following.

SHH!: Have things changed a lot in terms of storytelling and how each show is written since you first started developing the show?

Kring: It’s interesting. I had an opportunity to watch the pilot recently ’cause I did commentary for it. I was really struck by how close we got to the tone of the show. Usually, shows change pretty drastically from the pilot, but I have to admit, you could see the spark of everything that’s in the show in the pilot. I have to admit it does feel—when you look at the season as a whole, which people will be able to do on DVD when they can watch it contiguously—I think there’s gonna be a real sense of continuity from one episode to another. In many ways, the season finale was a bookend to the pilot. In small and subliminal ways, we even used costumes and we went back to music cues that were only in the pilot and not ever heard again throughout the season but were then reprised in the season finale, and we used the same exact narration at the top of the show. Small things that gave you a sense that this was all part of a big, grand masterplan.

SHH!: I watched the pilot and then the season closer myself a few days ago, and I felt the same way, which is funny because I hadn’t watched the pilot in over a year. I’m curious how you knew all your actors would be able to pull off some of the things they were faced with as the season progressed, especially less-established actors like Masi Oka?

Kring: Listen, I always knew that we were going to bend time and there was this future aspect of the character that was going to come back, but to be really honest, Masi only auditioned in Japanese for the pilot. He never spoke English, he never played anything other than the wide-eyed enthusiastic comic book geek in the audition, so it really was quite a huge leap to take that same actor and literally give him… when you think about it, Masi played two separate characters in English and in Japanese in three different timespans: the past, the future and the present. The role sort of expanded to fit his talent.

SHH!: It’s pretty amazing, since when I spoke to Masi last year, I had only watched the pilot and assumed him to be this comic relief throughout the series but I’m amazed by what he’s been able to do.

Kring: Right, well I had always planned that that character was going to be on the classic hero’s journey. He was going to start from a place of real innocence and he even says this as much himself, that that’s his goal to be thrust into adventure where he will be tested, so that wish comes true for that character. The truth is, back to your original question, anybody who tells you where things are going every step of the way is either a liar or a fool, because making a show like this is just a huge organic process. You go where the story tells you it wants to go, and the best laid plans of certain storylines, for millions of reasons, don’t pan out, whether it’s chemistry between actors or locations that fall out or production budget issues that you can’t afford. There’s a million reasons why stories morph, change and bend into other things. I had large tentpoles of where I wanted things to go, but in terms of all the details, getting to those tentpoles, those are figured out by ten writers who are in a writers’ room for 50,000 hours. That’s how it happens. It’s gruntwork, a war of attrition.

SHH!: It’s pretty amazing how far you got between that first episode and the season finale, but did you always plan to do this other mini-series “Origins”?

Kring: No, that was sort of thrust upon us just recently and it was really born out of a necessity of trying to figure out how to have more original episodes during the season. As you know, a season is 39 weeks long, and most television shows, us being one of them, can only produce about 24 episodes, so when you do the math, you’re off the air. That didn’t used to matter with a stand-alone procedural show where people would watch a rerun. Now, nobody will watch a rerun of a serialized show. Reruns are dead, so the question becomes what do you do to keep the audience alive, especially on a show like this that has kind of an addictive quality to it and a rhythm to the airing of these episodes. As you may or may not have known, we were off the air for seven weeks during the spring. We came back and took a huge hit in the ratings. We lost three million viewers and they never came back. This idea of doing a series within the series that would be new ancillary material to the show in a way. It lives in the world of “Heroes” but it’s a different series. The basic idea is that we posited a premise on the show that this is happening around the world and to many, many people and people are waking up with these discoveries of these unique powers, and this is a chance to show some of those origin stories in a kind of Rod Serling template of a cautionary tale or a morality tale around one or two characters that are discovering their new-found abilities.

SHH!: We got a taster for Volume II at the end of the last season, so is Season 2 going to have a very different tone and are episodes going to focus more on single characters now that they’ve been introduced?

Kring: Well, no. We still have a huge cast to service, but the season is going to feel different definitely. One of the things about a show like “Heroes,” it sort of lives or dies by its ability to defy expectations on a weekly basis and that’s a big chunk of why people are watching it. They want to have that experience of “Oh, I didn’t see that coming.” In many ways, the second season has to fulfill those same expectations, so it can’t just be a redo or replay of the first season. There are a few new themes that we’re playing with. Volume II which will probably last until the middle of the season is called “Generations” and for those people who were watching closely, they’ve realized that there is this other generation of people, parents like the Petrellis’ mother and Linderman and Richard Roundtree’s character and George Takei, all those characters represented another generation of people who dealt with these same issues. Season 2 will deal with some of the legacy that they’ve left behind, some of the mess they’ve left behind for the next generation to fix, so there’s a big thematic as far as that in the sins of the parents being visited on the childen.

SHH!: Will we see some of them, like Linderman, in flashback sequences so they’ll still be around?

Kring: Um, there are going to be some clever ways that we will see some of them, yes. While that’s one theme of the show, the other theme of this volume is…. Season 1 was about these ordinary people who become extraordinary and Season 2 or Volume 2 starts with these people trying to be ordinary again. Most of them, we pick back up in their lives with “How do you keep them down on the farm after they’ve had these amazing adventures?” That’s one of the themes we’re going to be playing with as well.

SHH!: Most of them have been lucky in that they haven’t been seen in public using their powers, so will we be seeing anything like the “secret identity” stuff that’s so common in comic book superheroes?

Kring: Well, yeah, for the most part, most of them have remained fairly anonymous, allowing them to live anonymous lives, which I think is really important for the show, so we don’t get into a situation where we’re looking at Superman and Batman being public figures, although a little bit of that is going to creep in.

SHH!: After asking about the flashbacks, I realized that you have this character who can travel through time to different periods making them unnecessary. I was curious what sort of problems that’s posed. I’m sure Jeph (Loeb, the show’s co-executive producer) has mentioned all the problems that time travel has caused within the different comic book universes.

Kring: Oh, yeah. It’s a very, very sticky world when you start to do the time travel, so we’re using it extremely judicially. Obviously, it’s no secret that Hiro has landed in feudal Japan, so he has adventures to fulfill there, but we are definitely going to use it a few other times at least. It’s a lot of fun.

SHH!: I’m looking forward to that since I’m a huge Kurosawa fan. Is he going to spend a lot of time in Japan or is that just a temporary stopover?

Kring: I’ll go as much as to say that it’s a handful of episodes.

SHH!: Are there any new characters coming on board with the new season?

Kring: Yes, there’s a few new characters as well. I mean, one of the other things about the show is that again, if we are positing this idea that this is happening all over the globe, it does seem kind of strange not to meet these people, plus the show has a need and a desire to constantly be moving and constantly be reinventing itself and regenerating. As new characters come in, older characters will fall away from the show, so it’s got that as well.

SHH!: Besides Hayden and Ali, a lot of the people you’ve cast were new faces who’ve come to prominence from the show. Have you had any problems with some of them wanting to take other offers that come there way like movies, etc and have you had to rewrite things to accommodate that?

Kring: Well, listen, all of them are very committed to the show and get the idea that this was a huge thing for them, so that hasn’t really begun yet, but with the size of the cast and the logistics of our shooting, it does actually afford people the ability to go off and do little projects along the way. Those are always challenging, but it’s also good for the show sometimes.

SHH!: You obviously have a gameplan worked out for the second season, so I wondered if you still have that flexibility if something comes up.

Kring: Yeah, there’s always flexibility, and we have to do it constantly on a daily basis. Things come up and we’re retooling all of the time. Literally, just yesterday we learned that our first pod of episodes is going to be eleven in a row, instead of ten in a row, so that threw a giant monkey wrench in our plans, because we had ended Volume II at Episode 10 and now we had to end it at Episode 11. Sometimes, stretching is very hard to do. When you can name that tune in 4 beats, it’s hard to name it in 6.

SHH!: And 45 minutes of additional writing is what? Like six more hours in the writing room?

Kring: Oh, believe me. That’s a couple of weeks!

SHH!: What about bringing on new and known directors? Shows like “Lost” and even “Oz” as they went along got interest from better-known directors who wanted to direct episodes.

Kring: Oh, yeah. There are sort of two competing goals in terms of directors. You want to have as small a stable as you can, because you don’t want to have to keep teaching old tricks to new directors. But the flip side of that is that a show like this that gains a certain amount of popularity also starts to attract very interesting directors who wouldn’t normally do a first year show and may not even do television. Sometimes you want to be able to breathe some new life into the directing of the show by bringing in people with fresh ideas, so you keep enough slots open every year out of the 24 to kind of audition new people. But the goal again, like I said, from a production sensibility is to try and have as small a stable as you can of directors so the actors are used to certain people. It’s always dicey when you bring in a brand-new face because they may or may not be able to get the vibe of a place or they may not connect with the actors the way that you want them to, so when you get somebody who does, that works, you try and lock ’em up.

SHH!: Will this new mini-series give you an opportunity to bring in new directors or ones that we might know from other shows/mediums?

Kring: That’s the whole idea. The whole idea is that it will not tax the production of “Heroes” at all. We’re going to have separate production, separate writers, separate directors, separate stage space. Everything will be separate except for a couple of us at the top who are going to sort of supervise things. The wonderful thing about it is the ability to attract some interesting writers and directors who are not normally interested in doing series television, but would come in and do one episode of a kind of Rod Serlingesque television show that has the stamp of a fairly big show like “Heroes.” We’re currently in negotiations on a couple of names that I’m going to announce in the next couple weeks that I think are going to be really exciting.

SHH!: Maybe there’ll be an announcement at San Diego Comic-Con?

Kring: That’s the idea we’re going to try right now.

SHH!: I know you weren’t really a comic book person before you started, so have you gotten more into comics? I was really impressed with the comic book downloads relating to the show.

Kring: They’re unbelievable. They’re the best graphic artists in the business have worked on them, literally the cream of the crop in terms of artists have participated this year, and we’re compiling them into a hardback book at the end of the summer. It’s going to be spectacular, but yeah, just by osmosis, I’m around it all the time. I’m looking at them. Usually, my interest in comic is really centered around the show, because that’s all I have time for now, but I’ve now become a real fan of these various artists and Jeph has really educated me quite a bit about it. He’s always pulling something up on his computer to show me somebody’s artwork and to explain why it’s better than this guy’s and why it’s cooler than this one. It’s been a fun learning curve.

SHH!: Do you have a date for the season start yet?

Kring: Well, our official start date is September 24, but knowing the way things change, I think it’s probably safe to say the end of September.

SHH!: Whose idea was it to do this whole “Heroes Tour” that’s coming up?

Kring: It was our idea, it was actually mine and Dennis Hammer, who is our producer here. We went to a NAFTI, an international television sales syndication and distribution convention in Las Vegas last year, and we met with what must have been 50 foreign buyers who were just over the moon about the show. All of them asked the same question, “Is there any chance you could come visit us?” And we sort of smiled and nodded and made polite chit-chat and on the way home, we were like “Maybe we should try and figure something out where we can actually do this.” You know, the show is rolling out all over the world right now. It’s sold in over 150 territories and it been really kind of a big hit wherever its aired so far. Part of it is to promote and celebrate that, but the other part is to draw attention to the DVD, which is a huge part of what our promo is going to be in August and September.

SHH!: Maybe that will help bring the 3 million back to the show.

Kring: Yeah, hopefully that will get it back. It’s a huge thing for us, this DVD, and it’s really going to be state-of-the art fabulous. It’s being released in HD-DVD as well.

SHH!: Are you all going to get in a tour bus together or just fly to different cities?

Kring: We’re taking the entire cast from the first season. We’re dividing things into three different trips. I’m going to the Far East, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. Another tour is going London, Paris, Munich. Another one is going someplace else but I’m not sure yet where, and then to New York for the premiere of the DVD. Anyway, that’s the whole idea. The show has not only a global message and a multi-national cast, but it also is truly a global phenomenon at this point with it premiering all over the world.

Season 1 of “Heroes” will be released on DVD on August 31, so you can preorder your copy at Amazon (HD DVD version here)

Stay tuned for more with the cast and crew of the Emmy-nominated show in the next few months, including our coverage of the San Diego Comic-Con panel on Saturday, July 28 at 12:45pm.

Source: Edward Douglas