Heroes, Everyday People With Extraordinary Powers

Just like one of his characters, Tim Kring has undergone a strange and rapid transformation in the past year. Now his life will never be the same.

The 50-year-old Californian was a solidly successful television writer-producer with credits for character-based dramas like Chicago Hope, Providence and Crossing Jordan.

But then he came up with the idea for Heroes, a drama about everyday people discovering they have extraordinary powers - and a higher purpose (All together now: Save the cheerleader, save the world").

US Network NBC had come to Kring in 2005 saying they needed a serial to give the channel its own Lost or 24. Kring had an idea, inspired, he says, by the fearful state of the world.

"I wanted to come up with a show that could deal with these larger issues and that is why I stayed away from typical cop show or law show or medical show because they couldn't speak to these giant issues that we face," he says from his Los Angeles production office where he's about nine episodes into the second series.

Heroes started screening in the US in September last year. It became a ratings and critical hit. Quickly renewed for another series, its second season began there last month and will start screening on TV3 next week, just as fans wade through the depths and detail of the seven-DVD set of the first season.

Along the way, like Chris Carter (X-Files), J.J. Abrams (Lost), Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) before him, Kring has become a venerated pop culture figure, a telly geek guru.

While he appreciates the attention to show he still finds it odd.

"It's strange because I had a 23-year career as a TV writer before I discovered overnight success with these particular fans. So it's been fun and strange all at the same time.

"It was not intentional but yet I knew these kinds of shows have a sense of personality attached to them and that is very important, so there has been an amount of pushing me in front to fulfill that role. Shows like Buffy and X-Files were centred around a single personality at the top of them and this particular audience tends to understand that and want it and appreciate that."

The funny thing is for a show with so many allusions to the arcane world of comic books, its creator isn't a comic book fan - though he's employed a fair few though in his writers' room.

But he didn't want Heroes to be a show destined for a short screen life and everlasting cult appreciation. Just because it was about fledgling superheroes, didn't mean it had to be a genre show. He says he brought a wider character-based perspective to it.

"There was some combination of my experience as a character-based drama writer and television writer working within this idea of borrowing from the comic book world that made it an accessible show to a mass audience, not just the genre audience.

"I came up with all these characters and all of their powers based on their needs or desires ... you take this character Nicky played by Ali Larter and I started thinking wouldn't it be great to have a single mother who is stretched very thin trying to make ends meet and not very capable and not very educated and wouldn't it be great if there was some alter ego who was pure Id who would take care of her - literally the idea of being in two places at one time.

"So each character I came at from a psychological character-based desire and just stumbled and landed on these big archetypes who had been done many many times in the comic book world."

Kring chuckles about the discussions in the writers' room where he sometimes has to remind the staff, hey, we're making television here.

"One of the problems is too many geeks left to their own devices will fall back heavily on to their knowledge of the comic book world and it can start to spin out of control."

"Every once in a while I will come into the writers' room and encounter a conversation that will make my head spin and I'm the guy who brings them back to reality: `wait a minute, why would anyone ever believe that could happen?"'

Kring freely admits the debt Heroes owes to Lost. But then again, one of his own former offsiders from Crossing Jordan, Damon Lindelof, was one of the show's writer-creators. In Lost's formative years Kring says he was an informal sounding board for his friend.

"In many ways that show softened up both the networks for how to do a show like this and the audience for how to watch a show like this.

"Every show has to teach the audience how to watch it - there is a certain vocabulary that comes with every show and a lot of that was taught to the audience by a show like Lost.

What Lost also taught Heroes is how not to leave your audience exasperated by yet another mystery within a mystery, seemingly only designed to drag the show out. "We watched a lot of the pitfalls that shows like Lost had to deal with. It's a very difficult premise and a much more difficult premise to service than ours and they do it really artfully.

"And taking nothing away from them but we were able to see where the frustration levels of the audience were. Let's answer questions faster' and that sort of thing."

In the commentary to the pilot episode in the DVD set, Kring talks about an initial terrorist storyline which was ditched after NBC got nervous that it would affect what time the show could screen.

Looking back he says it worked out for the best - "I don't know whether I would have wanted to tell that story every day of my life."

However, the first series still pivoted on preventing an apocalyptic event in New York - complete with heavy 9/11 allusions.

When Kring talks about the political themes behind his creation, he can sound positively Al Gore-like. But he says part of the reasons for the show's success that it captures the mood of the times and tries to do that with a global reach - with its American characters joined by those from India, Japan, Haiti and in the forthcoming second series, an entire subtitled storyline in Spanish (see sidebar).

"I don't know whether it's political but it has a message of hope and a message of interconnectivity of people around the world; of empowerment and unity that people from around the world are as valued as we are here.

"It has an anti-xenophobic message to it and in a culture where we both have a media and a Government which disseminates a lot of fear it puts out a message of hope. It's very disguised in a pop entertainment show about superheroes."

And yes, he does know where it's all going. More or less.

"We have big tent-pole ideas and we head towards those, which allows the show to be very organic in between and go where it wants to go. In many ways we have the big ideas of the season worked out and in very very broad ways a third season.

"Not a whole lot past there. Just a couple of lines jotted down."

Tim Kring on the second series:
"Volume two is called Generations and it's about this idea there was this other generation of people that we started to meet at the end of the first series - as exemplified by Malcolm McDowell and George Takei's characters. They were these other people who had these powers and were the parents and this second volume deals with the idea of the sins of the parents being visited upon the children.

"Where the first season was about ordinary people who become extraordinary the second season is about how these extraordinary people try to figure out how to be ordinary and go back to their lives - only to find that their lives can never be ordinary again."

"We are doing a storyline that is set in Spanish about. a brother and a sister who are making their way up - it's very timely here in the United States - through Central America and Mexico to cross the border into America and she has a very dark power although she is not a very dark character.

"And then we are doing a story set in post-Katrina New Orleans that in some ways is the closest thing we have to a [traditional] superhero story, about someone who uses their powers to help a tough and needy neighbourhood."


Who: Tim Kring, creator of Heroes

When: First season "Volume One" out now on DVD; Second season begins Monday October 22, 8.30pm, TV3.

Trivia: Kring's first writing credit was for a 1982 episode of David Hasselhoff's Knight Rider.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: