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Comic-Con 2007 Special Guest Spotlight: The Spirit of Darwyn Cooke Extended Interview with Masi Oka of 'Heroes' Extended Interview with Tim Sale of 'Heroes' Extended Interview with Tim Kring of 'Heroes'
Tim Kring NBC Photo: Paul Drinkwater

Extended Interview with

Tim Kring


In 2006, Comic-Con introduced the world to the new hit NBC-TV series, Heroes. Since then, the show has gone on to be one of this season's major hits. We talked to creator/executive producer Tim Kring, about the show that some think is a graphic novel come to life.

Heroes returns to Comic-Con in the giant Ballroom 20 on Saturday, July 28 at 12:45pm.

CCI: Every great super hero story has an origin. What's the origin of Heroes for Tim Kring?

TK: I have a show on NBC called Crossing Jordan. Along with my responsibilities on that show, I have a development deal with the network to come up with another show and this was part of that deal. I wanted to do something that was a large ensemble serialized show because they were the ones that I found to be the most exciting and interesting shows on television.

It couldn't have been done five years ago as they didn't do that kind of show then. So I became fascinated that these were the shows the networks were now interested in, along with the audience. I started looking around for the kind of show I wanted to do in this arena, thinking about what would connect with people and looking around the world at how difficult and complicated it is now with issues that are so huge. I was trying to address something that would really connect in a kind of international and global way. Because I knew I wanted the show to bridge cultures and borders, I started thinking about what those issues were. They were so large, it didn't seem like your normal cop or law or medical show was going to be able to deal with them.

And that is what led me to the idea of superpowers. I wanted to have characters that people related to and the more ordinary (they were) was the way I felt was a more relatable way to tell this. These characters were not particularly characters I was used to, or their powers were not things that I was used to writing. I'm used to telling stories about ordinary people with ordinary lives. These are ordinary people whose lives become extraordinary.

The superpowered cast of 'Heroes' The superpowered cast of Heroes
NBC Photo: Mitch Haaseth

CCI: Heroes seems to avoid the pitfalls of other long-form series and makes a concerted effort to "reward" viewers each week with a major plot point or revealed secret. What was your plan going in to keep the story moving and fresh for viewers?

TK: It was always the plan to try and move faster than other shows. I think one of the things Heroes has going for it is the premise for the show is not a particularly limiting premise. It really is a very broad premise, the idea of these ordinary people discovering their powers and how it affects their lives and being called to something great. We didn't start off with a central mystery that defines the show, the way a lot of other shows do.

Also the huge number of characters allows you to tell a tremendous amount of story. When you're telling those stories you can always find one or two moments within each episode that are a fairly big reveal. But it has been both a blessing and a curse to be a show that reveals things quickly. We can do an hour of TV that has peoples' brains exploding and the next week do 70% of that, which is still extraordinary, but we're judged by our own standards and it's a hard thing to keep topping over and over again.

One of the things that became important for us is this idea of revealing secrets. One of the main differences between Heroes and other shows is there's no one secret that is precious enough not to reveal. I think on some shows there are certain secrets now that have become so precious that if you reveal them, they wouldn't be very satisfying because you've built up such an expectation. There was a very concerted effort not to make anything that was going to be so precious as to let people down once it's revealed.

CCI: You mentioned earlier that networks were resistant to long form, multi-character stories. How much do you think DVD has changed that?

TK: I think a huge amount. From a financial standpoint, there is now a whole revenue stream that wasn't there ten years ago. The normal model was you did these quasi stand-alone episodes and then sold the entire package into syndication and they could be syndicated easily because you could watch them whenever you wanted.

But the serialized format was not known for selling into syndication very well because it called for too much commitment from the audience. The DVD revenue stream sort of replaced the idea of a big sale into syndication. They now have an ancillary way to make the backend amount of money on a show.

CCI: So in turn does the DVD aspect influence how you tell as story?

TK: The only time it's really changed the way we tell a story is a little bit in the editing room. When we have moments that overlap between two shows, we'll make some considerations for how that is going to look if you're plugging in the DVD right after the first one. Should we start with the same angle we left off? But no, we're locked into this serialized storytelling and it's going to be the same whether people are going to watch it once a week or five in a row.

CCI: As we talk, you're about three-quarters of the way through the first season. Which characters took on lives of their own and most surprised you as they evolved during the season?

Jack Coleman as HRG (Horn Rimmed Glasses) Jack Coleman as Mr. Bennet, also known to fans as HRG (Horn Rimmed Glasses)
NBC Photo: Chris Haston

TK: Well, many did. But what comes to mind immediately is Jack Coleman's character of HRG. That character started with three or four lines in the pilot and grew to such an extent that we dedicated an entire episode to him, which was not fully foreseen. We knew he was going to be an integral part of the story but to this extent we didn't see it.

But the truth is that the flip side of that question is that on most shows you have an attrition rate with your cast based on the fact that you cast them in not a particularly detailed process to begin with. Because you only have one script you're working on which is the pilot. You really only see them when they come in and audition off of a couple of scenes. So, you follow your gut and you go with it, and many times you end up with a cast that doesn't meet your expectations. So you fold and adapt and change things around and jettison certain characters.

This show, in a weird way, was the opposite. I assumed there was going to be people that really popped and we'd go in that direction, and people that wouldn't. The truth is every single actor we've been able to write for. On most shows you're very limited by what your actors are capable of doing. This is really not the case on this show. Everybody has been just really terrific.

I think there were certain characters for me that really deepened. The relationships between the two brothers, Peter and Nathan, and Claire and her father were much more profound than I had envisioned in my head originally, especially Claire and her father. In a strange way, it was almost a classic love story between two people who are star crossed and can't quite get together.

CCI: Speaking of characters, Hiro seems to be the heart and soul of the group, and the only character who willingly embraces his powers. Is Hiro the hero that Heroes revolves around?

TK: Well, he is in many ways the most stripped down to what the essence of the classic Joseph Campbell hero myth is. He embodies that idea. So in many ways he does embody a lot of what the themes of the show are. The original idea for the character was that it was almost like the fool in a Shakespearean play. Shakespeare often gave the fool the most poignant and powerful messages. In some ways Hiro delivers a lot of that for the show.

But in terms of the actual scale and size and scope of the series, he's no larger a character than any of the other characters. In that respect, no, he's not elevated any higher than the others. He just happens to personify the message of the show. Yes, he is the one character who willingly embraced his powers. But if you lined up ten people you knew and suddenly they all woke up with extraordinary abilities, I can't imagine that more than one or two would embrace them. I tried to show the reality of what would really happen.

Ali Larter as Niki...or, is it Jessica? Ali Larter as Niki
...or, is it Jessica?
NBC Photo: Paul Drinkwater

CCI: Ali Larter's character, or characters, seem the most mysterious and can certainly go either way to be a hero or a villain. Is there a spin off series in the future called Villains?

TK: (Laughs) Well, you know the truth is in order to have heroes you definitely need villains. One of the original concepts of the show for me was that these powers would play into the characters' free will and if the character was predisposed to be good then they would use these powers for good. And if you were predisposed to do evil, then you would use these powers for evil.

We haven't explored that as much as I originally thought we would, where we get to see one character start off as good and then turn evil. But I think that is, in some ways, the most interesting way to have a villain. Once we really get to know Sylar, and the more we get to know the origin of his story, the more we will feel that was really the story of that character.

But Ali Larter's character is the most complex to wrap your brain around. I've always thought that if you looked at it like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or like the Incredible Hulk, then you really weren't too far off.

CCI: By the time our readers read this they'll know the answer, but is the first season of Heroes a finite story?

TK: Yes. The idea is that volume one of Heroes is this season, and it just happens to be twenty-three episodes long with a season-ender. And that is the end of volume one. Volume one will wrap up a major part of the story and have certain components that continue on, hopefully leaving you wanting to come back and see what volume two is. We want to be able to show you the next volume feeling like you're getting a fresh story with new ideas and new concepts.

CCI: We're all hoping for a season one DVD set before season two. What kind of extras can we expect to see?

TK: Oh, we've got tons. It's really going to be an amazing set. I think the highlight of it will be the original 72-minute Tim Kring version of the pilot. The one that was shown at Comic-Con was never mixed or scored and never color-timed, so this will be a beautiful polished version of that with commentary.

The DVD is also going to be the first television show released in HD-DVD and will allow you access through the Internet to all sorts of different components that basically feed into it.

We're even putting in a few new scenes and the idea of some new characters that will kind of preview the next volume.

CCI: What do viewers have to look forward to in volume two?

TK: Volume two may not last an entire season. It will pick up a few of the questions that will be left hanging in volume one. But you can look forward to the introduction of a new character and a villain and the idea of the show having a kind of global feel is only increased in volume two.

CCI: When you say volume two will not be an entire season, do you mean you'll start volume three in the next season?

TK: Yes, volume three will start in the middle of the season or toward the end of the season. There is a complete season next year, with about 23 episodes, but the idea is that the show is told in volumes and each one is sort of looked at as one book in a series of books, and then we move on to another volume. This allows us to not get caught up in one giant story that needs to be dragged on. One of the lessons we've learned from other shows is that that you can't (let the show) get wrapped up so tightly around itself that it doesn't have any breathing room left. You can't introduce any new concepts because you're so busy on the freight train that is that story. The story becomes a big giant engine that gets harder and harder to hop off.

CCI: We're curious about the writing process for the show. You have a staff of writers, but individual episodes are usually credited to a solo writer. What's the process of writing an episode and how is the staff involved?

TK: The show is broken up in a big writers group, usually a couple of episodes at a time. Because we air in pods of episodes, eleven first, and then seven, and then the final five, we were able to write towards cliffhangers in each of those and break those stories into pods.

The stories are divided up and each writer takes a piece of it. Whether that is a storyline or a character's storyline or a concept that crosses a couple of stories, we write them as a group. They are then compiled by the writer of record, who is just the next writer on the rotation. That writer takes that episode and compiles it and sees it through every single part of the process, which is tremendously long and complicated: prep for production, production, the writer is on the set, and in the editing room. So by the time that show is done, that writer has a real sense of ownership on that episode, although he may not have written every word.

CCI: Comic-Con was proud to premiere Heroes last year to the world. What was your experience like at the event?

TK: Extraordinary. I had never been so I didn't know what to expect at all. You know you have to realize we were a show that wasn't on the air and we were just a twinkle in the eye. We had no idea that there would be the kind of reception awaiting us when we walked in. We had booked a 2,000-seat room, and I had thought foolishly so, and I was prepared to kind of have a "Spinal Tap" moment, where we were all going to be there and staring at each other and say, "Okay, let's go get a drink and get on out there." So it was pretty startling to see the reaction.

We had obviously turned lots of people away at the show. In fact, Jeph Loeb had the great quote of the day when he turned to me and said, "We're going to need a bigger boat."

CCI: You will have a bigger boat this year. The Heroes panel will be in a room more than twice the size of last year. And we're looking forward to having you back again, and all of us at Comic-Con are very proud that we were the ones who were chosen to premiere this to the world.

TK: Well, when we come back this year, it'll be a big giant thank you to Comic-Con and we'll bring as much exclusive stuff that we can for the audience there. We're going to try to make a big splash.



 

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