The 'Heroes' Creator on Recapturing Its Mojo in Season 3

Post Game: Heroes 3.4

Considering it’s never been easy to distinguish between the good and the bad on Heroes, having the series kick off its upcoming third season with a 13 episode volume entitled "Villains" seems appropriate enough. Promos prominently featuring a dark Claire about to go all Rambo on her uncle Peter blur those thin lines even further. Refereeing those constant moral struggles and dark impulses is none other than series creator/Executive Producer Tim Kring, who recently met the press to address the return of Heroes on September 22nd and how this could be its best year yet. 

 Newsarama: Tim, Heroes was so embraced by critics and fans in the first season. Do you think it was judged too harshly in season two and is that something that you worry about moving on? Are you always going to be held to a higher standard just because it was such a hit critically and with fans early on?

Tim Kring: You know that is always the nature of something that hits in a big, very zeitgeist kind of way. It’s very hard to be shiny and new all the time. And so of course, that’s something that always concerns us but there’s not a whole lot we can do. We just make the story that we make.

And as for how the season was judged, the fans that really stuck with us saw what ended up being, especially the second half of that volume which finally came together the way that the first season did. In the first season, we took about eight or nine episodes before the characters even crossed paths with one another. And if you stuck with it, you were rewarded to see where the story went. In the second season, there were 13 episodes that will never be seen and so I think it was obviously very hard to judge it as a whole without literally over half of it never being seen. That’s all I can say about it.

NRAMA: Due to the writers’ strike, there was a big hiatus. Were there any advantages to the long break?

Kring: Yes, you know obviously the break was very difficult for so many people. The crew, the cast, and writers were all out of work and unemployed all that time so it was very difficult and also difficult for the audience not to be able to have the remaining half of literally a little more than half of the season truncated that way. But the silver lining was it allowed us a little bit of a break from the creative day-to-day of the show that had been pretty relentless for two years.

NRAMA: You had to originally abandon what you were planning for Volume 3. What sort of other opportunities opened up for you and what, if anything, stayed intact for it at the start of the season?

Kring: Well, it’s interesting. I don’t know that I’ve had a lot of time to really think about what opportunities it opened for us. We closed some doors that we would have obviously explored and that’s always complicated. We had actually shot a fair amount of content already and that lives on as DVD extras in the second season that people can actually watch and see where we were planning to go with the next volume. Again, what the truncated year did for us was allow us to do a kind of reassessment of how to tell a story in a very adrenalized way.

Clearly the audience is really not very interested in a slow build on the show. They want to hit the ground running and so it gave us a little time to figure out just how to do that and in many ways how to tell a story without an act one to start basically an act two.

And we think with Volume 3, "Villains", that we figured that out, how to hit the ground running in a really quick way that has a tremendous amount of adrenalin.

NRAMA: What major changes have you made to the storytelling, maybe to help viewers follow the story? Are you going to feature any characters more prominently than others?

Kring: Well, this season we are not really introducing any new characters that have their own storylines so we are concentrating very much on the core characters that we’ve had for two seasons now. But no, we have a certain style of storytelling that really is a kind of pastiche of storytelling where there are multiple characters and multiple stories going on at the same time.

The difference in this volume, "Villains", is they are all feeding one big, giant story. So no, we’re not really playing anybody any more than anybody else I don’t think. The audience may feel that way at times but I think when they see it put together, certain episodes may lean a little more heavily on one character or another but by the end, I think it’ll kind of balance out.

NRAMA: The first hour of season three answered a lot of questions but it also left some dangling. How deep in the season will we get an understanding of how Linderman is back from the dead, why Niki is called Tracey, and what did Sylar do to Claire’s brain when he was fishing around in there?

Tim Kring: You know, some of those questions will linger a little bit but I think by the end of the third hour of the show, you have most of those. I mean, one of the goals of this season was just because we have been off the air for what will have been nine months, we didn’t want to drag a lot of story behind us. We didn’t want to feel like you had to have watched two years of this show to catch up. So we wanted to answer things really quickly so that you could move forward on this volume and have a kind of clean path in front of you.

So there are not a lot of lingering questions that you carry with you from before. The goal for us from now on with these volumes is to try and answer literally 95 percent of the questions that are posed in the beginning of the volume by the end of the volume.

NRAMA: How important does family play this season in the grey area between heroes and villains?

Kring: Well, it’s interesting that you say that because the truth is it’s all about family and at the core of this particular volume, we’re exploring the idea of dysfunction among family. There are two families that are at the core of this show, the Bennett family and the Petrelli family, and both of them will be tested and tugged in ways that you haven’t seen so far.

NRAMA: When Heroes started, everyone was a protagonist. At what point did you realize that you needed a continued antagonist like Sylar and that it would be a good idea for Sylar to carry through instead of having an arc and disappear?

Kring: Well, Sylar was always designed to stay around. And we knew that you really can’t have heroes without villains and so I think it was kind of built into the premise. Also what was built into the premise is this idea that these are ordinary people so to the extent that they have- that they make decisions that are based on who they are and what circumstances they find themselves in, that determines whether they are good or evil. If you are predisposed to be good and you have a superpower, then you’ll use it for something good. If you’re predisposed to be bad, then you will use it for something evil.

And so it was kind of always built into the premise that our core group of people would be tempted by the circumstances they were in.

NRAMA: The audience is clearly meant to identify with Sylar even though he’s the villain. Are you going to continue to make him even more sympathetic? Is he going to get friends or maybe even go so far as a love interest?

Kring: To be really honest, that is sort of a quest with this character, to continue to play off of the duality of good and evil which I think has been at the core of a lot of characters in the show. It will certainly become more and more thematic in the show in this volume, "Villains", where so many of our characters will be faced with these choices of who are they really and what is their basic nature. And so yeah, we are going in places this particular volume with Sylar that will cause the audience to be really torn as to how they feel about this guy. They knew he is capable of tremendous evil and yet he has a kind of depth of pathos that makes you question your own sense of what’s right and wrong.

NRAMA: Regarding Angela Petrelli, she started off sort of as a recurring character and now she’s become a main cast member. Could you discuss how the character developed over the season and what can we expect from her this year?

Kring: That is another example of what happens when an actor-it’s sort of a dream come true to have an actor that meets the writers halfway on a character. You create something that is only intended to play a certain part on the show and then the actor, like Cristine [Rose], brings so much to the character that we begin to see all the potentials, and some new potentials, of that character. And that’s just sort of a classic example of that. She really has now become a very integral part of the storyline. And in many ways, it was because of Cristine’s ability to bring all of these colors and flavors to that character that made that possible.

NRAMA: Concerning the symbols in Heroes, we have the helix, the eclipse, and the double helix of the Pinehurst Company is going to be introduced in Volume 3. How much of that is going to be explained and explored in the upcoming volume?

Kring: Again, some of these symbols morph their meanings as we go on a little bit. The helix is an example of that and clearly it’s been revealed now as a part of the double helix of a DNA strand which plays into the themes of the show and was always intended to be revealed as that. But there are deeper meanings to both of the symbols of the eclipse and the helix that we plan to reveal along the way. It’s one of the very few things that we wanted to have as question marks that carried you through the series.

We set out to be a show that answered questions along the way in a very regular and quick way, but we always wanted to have a few mysteries that carried through the length of the series that would change and morph, just enough to keep you guessing as to what the new meanings would be. And both the eclipse and helix are two major examples of that.

NRAMA: During season two, you introduced the group of 12 and in one episode, Hiro’s Dad said there were eight of them left. Then a couple of episodes later, Matt said that they were all dead so are we going to see any more of the group of 12 or are they all dead?

Kring: Yes, you will see a few of them. And that was referring to the idea of the previous generation. The second volume of the show was called "Generations" and explored the idea that there was a whole series of people who came before our characters and acted in ways that our characters then had to go and, you know, it’s basically the idea of the sins of the parents had been visited upon their children.

NRAMA: This is a show that’s clearly not afraid to kill off key characters which can be kind of tough on fans. I’m wondering what the benefits are for you in terms of dramatic possibility and if you regret killing anyone off? Is it possible for any character to feel safe?

Kring: The truth is when you do a story that has any kind of stakes involved, especially the stakes of life and death, you absolutely have to have some casualties along the way, otherwise the audience begins to really become very suspicious of whether you ever really mean it when you raise these stakes.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, we exist in a world where we actually have to do that in order to maintain some authenticity. The good thing about Heroes is that nobody is ever really as dead as they seem to be on our show because of the ability to time travel, to go back in time, and because of the flashback nature of the show. We’ve been able to find characters that return in interesting and new ways.

NRAMA: And what would be an example?

Kring: And I don’t know if it’s regret or some of it was just planned or actor’s availability, but someone like Malcolm McDowell, who we loved working with and found a way to figure out how to have the character return in an interesting way this season.

NRAMA: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in making the third season?

Kring: Well, in many ways, there’s a continuum on this show for us that the audience doesn’t experience. The audience experiences it in seasons; we haven’t. We have sort of experienced it as one long production so in many ways, it’s the same challenges. We’re making a very big, logistically complicated show and by all accounts, maybe the biggest, most complicated show there is. So the challenges are many fold. And for me as a writer, it’s keeping it fresh and we have set a bar for the audience for expectations, surprise, and unpredictable storytelling.

And that bar gets raised often by our own. We sort of raise the bar ourselves. In other words, we’ll do an episode that is filled with twists and turns and we’ll really blow people away. And then the next week, we have to find some way to top ourselves. And in many ways it’s a challenging game to play to keep topping yourself. You sometimes get in a situation where you just simply can’t top an episode from the week before

NRAMA: Most of the fans are pretty hardcore and love the extended content, so what are the tie-ins with the graphic novel and do you think the average viewer will be a little bit less behind if they just watch the series?

Kring: Well, the whole idea of the online extensions of the show was always to be additive to the show. In other words, if you just watched the show, you could have a terrific experience and not really need to find out more. But if you are inclined to dig a little deeper into the mythology of the show, we have all these various ways you can do that on NBC.com. And it becomes additive to your experience. It’s literally just one, or two, or three, or four more things that you will know that someone else may not know.

It just deepens your experience and sense of fandom to the show. This year, we have many of the same ideas that we’ve had for the last couple of years in terms of the comic book.

But we are adding a very exciting new element of these-of a web series that’s going to run concurrently with the show. We’ve done three of them so far. We have another pod of, I believe six that’s going to come up in the fall and then another pod of six or seven in the spring. And they will be storylines that run concurrently with these volumes that we’ll add to and fill out the whole idea of the mythology, and everything feeding the cannon of the show. So I think it’s a very exciting way for you to add to your experience as a fan. 

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