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"Heroes" Post Game Report with Tim Kring, Part Two

In part one of our discussion with "Heroes" creator Tim Kring posted yesterday, we discussed a wide range of subjects from what "Heroes" has meant to Tim personally and professionally, if "Heroes" affected the cancellation of his other series "Crossing Jordan," discussion of how they arrived at the season finale, cock roaches and much more. Today, we bring you part two of that discussion in which we talk about the global expansion of the show via illegal downloading, get details on "Heroes: Origins," the possibility of a writers strike and discover that a show like "Heroes" can make you cooler in front of your kids.

When last we spoke with Tim, we were discussing some of the changes that took place from original concept to final execution when, quite suddenly, he had to jump up from his desk and put the phone on hold. What crisis had transpired that required such immediate attention? Let's get back to that phone call.

OK, I'm back. Sorry about that.

Everything OK?

Yeah, I just spilled coffee all over my desk.

Well, that's no good! I certainly hope there weren't any critical scripts or notes for season two sitting on your desk!

Right! [laughs] The entire second season was just lost! [laughs]

I think you just killed the Internet, Tim. [laughs] OK, you all cleaned up now? Ready to continue?

Sure.

OK. Now with the success of any TV show, and maybe this is a bit more unique for you because you're on a network that's been struggling, there are obviously freedoms that you gain when you're a success. There are also certain freedoms you loose once you attain this kind of success. Do you find you've lost any freedoms now that "Heroes" has become this type of hit?

That's interesting. I'm trying to see how that translates. Freedoms in terms of ...?

Say, network interference, exploitation or trying to push you to do things you would rather not do?

I would not look at it quite like that. A hit show like this is carrying a lot more water than other shows and that becomes complicated. We are seen as a platform for launching new shows, which dictates what comes after us and how and when we have to be back on the air. I think one of the problems is we are expected to be on the air all the time and we just can't be. So, no, the plusses really outweigh any minuses. The truth is the amount of attention we get from the network in positive ways can't be taken for granted. That's really terrific. The downside of it is the pressure goes from when you're not on the air - that time right before you air the pilot - the pressure is "this better be good because you're spending a lot of our money." When we became a hit the pressure went from "this better be good" to "you better not fuck it up!" [laughs] Both of them have equal amounts of pressure. One would think that once you're on the air and a hit, "Oh, the pressure is off," but it's not that.

Talk about what you learned and what your team learned about serialized storytelling through season one?

You know, a million things, but I would say there are some big, big lessons along the way. The biggest was we learned how not to be precious with information, with answers. We learned that no answer is so precious that we can't tell you what it is. I think people really expect on a show like this to learn what's happening and what the secrets are. Secrets, if you wait to long, are ultimately going to disappoint the audience. If you wait a year and a half for an answer, no matter what you tell your audience it will disappoint them because it just can't be a good enough answer. So, you learn to give answers at a frequent rate.

The other big thing is we learned that it becomes very dangerous when the story becomes too wrapped around itself, so it's really dictated how we're going to proceed with the future. As you saw, we called season one volume one and it just happened to be 23 episodes long. Volume two began in the last two minutes of Monday night's episode, but in no way has to be an entire season and it won't be. The idea now is to tell volume two in a much shorter amount of time so that we are not dragging so much story behind us 20 episodes into the show. This also allows for the barrier of entry into the show to be lowered so that people can join along the way. There have been certain serialized shows that I have not watched from the beginning and when I tuned in three years in, there was a kind of aggressive denial of my entry into the show. You're ten minutes into it and you're like, "Wow, these people don't want me to watch their show!" [laughs] Everything about the show told me I wasn't allowed in there because I didn't know enough. I really am very aware of that. I want the barrier of entry to be low enough for new viewers to come in. So, what we're doing is wrapping these stories up in shorter arcs so that you can hop on the train as a new viewer along the way. A serialized show has a natural attrition, I think. People are interested in the beginning and you're naturally going to loose people along the way, so if you don't make it so that there are stops along your travels where people can hop on the train, I think you're really doing a disservice to the show.

Gotcha. Is the same writing staff for season one mostly in tact for season two?

Yeah, we kept pretty much everybody.

That's kind of remarkable.

Yes, definitely. We've lost Bryan Fuller unfortunately to his new and wonderful pilot that he wrote and produced, otherwise we would still have Bryan around here. We filled the staff out with a couple of new bodies, but boy it was just such a successful group that we stuck with pretty much the entire writing staff.

That has to be a very unique situation in television because usually when you have a hit like "Heroes," the writing staff starts being cherry picked by other productions.

Oh yeah, but it's a really cohesive and happy group and still to this day many of our e-mails to each other - and keep in mind we only live five feet away from each other in these offices and we see each other all day long - but we still e-mail each other fifty times a day and it's still great that most of the e-mails end with the same three words:

Best. Show. Ever.

[Laughs] Oh, that's excellent. Now, where are you guys in terms of writing for season two?

We started breaking stories two weeks ago. One of the things this show allows us to do is because there are so many separate stories at the beginning, we can divide the stories up so that one writer will take this story and another writer will take that story and so on. So, everybody goes off, writes, comes back and we compile all the work and then each script is assigned a writer in the rotation - we just go down the rotation - and that writer becomes the writer of record on that episode and he or she compiles it and takes it from there. Most of them go through me at some point, but what it allows us to do is what we're doing right now, dividing up four scripts, going off with everybody taking a chunk, we all come back, put it together and suddenly we have four scripts. It allows you to really get ahead and with the way that we're shooting we're taking advantage of the ability to what's called "cross board," which means shoot multiple scenes from multiple episodes. If we're going to drive 40 miles away to a location, we can drop anchor and do scenes from four different episodes. It's just a much more efficient way to work. But, in order to do that, you need scripts and often you only have the luxury of being ahead at the beginning of a season and once that train leaves the station it gets harder and harder to stay ahead. It's sort of like the old Lucille Ball in the chocolate factory scene, where she's working on the conveyor belt and that conveyor starts moving faster and faster and by the end … [laughs]

You're totally overwhelmed with too much chocolate on your face!

Yup!

You've got this great, passionate group of writers together, but there's a very serious threat looming on the horizon - how much of a concern is the possibility of a writer's strike this Fall to you right now?

Pretty big. In fact, I'm trying not to think about it, let's put it that way.

Sorry to bring that up!

Oh, no. It's very frightening to me for a bunch of reasons, but I will say this - I lived through the last strike in 1988 and the business was fairly healthy back then and the strike did very real damage to the business. This time around the business is not very healthy and also this time around these networks are giant conglomerates. I don't know that they have the same attitude about the business. So, I feel like this business is just a bottom line business to these corporations. I would be very afraid of under estimating their sympathies for the writers side of this issue, although this is a very tough issue that has to be worked out. This particular show, "Heroes," is watched by millions of millions of people on the Internet and at some point that's where this is all going and unless the Writers Guild and the networks figure out how writers are going to be paid for this, I don't see how writers are going to make a living. There's nothing set-up for it right now.

Now, you mentioned how this show is watched by millions on the Internet and we've seen evidence of that ourselves in our weekly BEHIND THE ECLIPSE series with Joe Pokaski and Aron Coleite. We've received questions from our readers and your viewers from disparate locales as far away as Singapore, Israel, the Czech Republic, Sao Paolo, Mexico City, pretty much all over the globe. It's been fascinating to see how this show has become a global phenomenon and, obviously, at the same time it's achieved that status by way of illegal video downloads.

Yeah, a big chunk of it. I was just in France three weeks ago and the show is hands down the biggest show in France. There are Web sites and magazines and fans everywhere. We had thousands of fans show up to an event there and, well, the show isn't even on the air yet.

Wow.

Yeah, it doesn't air in France until the summer. So, this is all from the Internet and all from illegal downloads from various Web sites in Scandanavian countries and even in Great Britain. It's all illegal. And I'm of two minds about it. Clearly that buzz is huge and fabulous for the fans and maybe will translate to, when French television carries it - TF1 is carrying it there - but they're very worried that it will eat into their airing of the show. Who knows. It's a brave new world. All I know is that even with the legal downloads millions of people are streaming it and the writers of these episodes don't see a penny of that and somehow that has to change.

This is going to be an interesting couple of months for sure.

Yes and I do think the strike is, well, I guess I would put it at a 50/50 chance. There's a very distinct possibility that we could see a strike.

I guess all we can do is hope for the best. Good luck to you guys. So, how about we move on to some happier subjects?

Let's talk about "Origins." When that was announced we got a lot of e-mails for Joe & Aron concern it was a sign that the show was being exploited too much. And yes, we can see where people would get that impression and it is a spin-off, an extension of the original show, but it's not like it's another 23 episode series.

Right. Right now it's six episodes, they are stand alone episodes that have a kind of, for lack of a better way of describing it, a Rod Serling quality to them. A cautionary or morality tale about various people around the globe who are discovering these abilities and it allows us to tell a million different kinds of stories. Some of them will tie-in with "Heroes," although if you don't know what "Heroes" is you can enjoy the show without it. If you do watch "Heroes," then those tie-ins will be really fun to watch. Yes, it's our concern as well that we are stretching too far and we are very sensitive to that. One of the hallmarks of the people I work with, and I include myself in that group, is we've very conscientious about the brand and trying not to harm it and trying not to diminish or take away anything from the mother ship of "Heroes" because everything is sort of begat from there. So, the second this feels like it's doing any sort of damage, we'll cut our losses.

That said, my sense is this could be a very cool additive. We're looking at it in many respects as the 360 experience of the show. This idea where you have these other venues to go and explore various angles of the show. This is really just an on-air version of that in a way. It allows us to tell, let's say you were interested in the Claude character played by Christopher Eccleston, on a show like "Origins" we could tell the origin story of that character and I don't see anything wrong with that. That's a very cool use of that opportunity.

And based on the e-mail we get week in and week out, there seems to be a lot of fan interest in more with Claude, so that idea alone could really do well for you.

Exactly and we have not completely worked out all those details, but we love Christopher Eccleston and it really is a matter of his availability as an actor, but we would have him back in a heart beat.

And another thing you're able to do with "Origins" is to show a bit of fan appreciation or fan service. What I understand one possibility to be is fans will be able to vote for or against some of these newly introduced characters joining the mother ship, as you put it.

In some respects, yes. There will be some element of that involved. Whether it's all of the cast or not, we don't know yet. One of the great things about "Origins" to me is there are so many actors we've heard from who are fans of the show, people with big careers, which is always flattering to find these people you really admire are huge fans of the show. Well, now we're in a position where we can say, well, we know you're a movie star and you have numerous projects you're working on, but how would you like to work on a single episode and be involved in the show? So, it is a way to get some of these very interesting people to come and do an episode of the show. Of course, some of the caliber of people we're talking about are not going to or may not want to be in a weekly series, but they'll come and do one episode, which could be really cool. I mean really, really cool. So, this idea of voting them on the show might be a good idea in theory, you can vote them on all you want, but they're going to do what they want to do. That, to me, is one of the ideas that could make "Origins" really fun.

Interesting. This opens up a lot of interesting opportunities for you guys.

Absolutely and it's not just limited to actors. Interesting writers, interesting film makers. Because they're one offs, you can find people, again, who are not going to sign onto a series, but if a fabulous writer or writer/director came up to us…you know, there are many fans of the show out there who are film makers and it may be a way to entice one of them.

Suddenly I have visions of a Quentin Tarantino written and directed episode of "Origins."

There you go. That kind of idea, exactly. It's really fun. We also, again, we get to look at it almost as a farm system for the show so that if somebody does pop, it crosses over into the mother ship. I would not fear this. I would think there could be some very cool benefits to this idea.

Let's wrap this up with some fun stuff. Out of curiosity, are you a Mac or PC guy?

Mac. Always.

It seems like a lot of writers are Mac users.

To this day I pride myself on not knowing how to work a PC. Although, that's going to come home to bite me at some point in my life. I see myself in my own "Twilight Zone" episode where there are no Macs and only PCs and I never learned how to use one.

Do you remember what your first Mac was?

Oh, yeah. The very first Macintosh. I bought my first one in 1985, whatever that would have been. Probably a Classic.

What do you work off today?

I've got a Power Mac G5 with a big, big monitor. I upgrade every couple of years. The irony though is, I've got this Ferrari of a computer and I drive it like an Edsel. I obviously go on the Internet, but I primarily use a screen writer program and Microsoft Word and that's it! I've got this giant engine in there which I could be running a small country off of, yet I barely use it. And I'm not a gamer at all - not that I have no interest, I have intense interest in it but I realize how ruinous it could be to my career if I had any other distractions in my life at this point, so the last games I played were ten years ago and I've struck them from my computer. I'm in like a 12 step program! [laughs]

What do you do to relax?

Well, I've got two kids. I try to work out. I play music, I'm a guitar player. Those are tough issues for me right now. They're all very touchy subjects!

How old are your kids?

10 and 7.

How much cooler with them are you now that you've created "Heroes?"

Well, definitely with my ten year old who really knows about it. My seven year old has never seen the show, although he has decided that it was very cool that I created the show - he stood up and announced it in a restaurant last week! [laughs]

Oh, that's precious. [laughs] Have you had to sign your kids to Non-Disclosure Agreements so they don't go spreading news about the show they shouldn't?

You know what, I do tell a little too much to my daughter and it came back to bite me when she told all of her friends and I heard about it from her parents! [laughs] It trickled down.

I took my daughter to Paris with me, the 10 year old, and she got to witness this crazy event we did with thousands of French, screaming fans and she was pretty amazed that her father was as cool as he was! [laughs] For those two hours, at least.

That's excellent. Allright, Tim, I've kept you from the writers room for long enough. Thanks for handing over an hour of your day to me today.

My pleasure.

And for those "Heroes" fans that still have question, don't forget that next week (likely on Tuesday due to the American Holiday) we'll publish the BEHIND THE ECLIPSE SPRING ANNUAL #1 where Joe and Aron will answers questions only from you, the devoted "Heroes" fan. We're taking questions through Friday afternoon so get them in fast if there's something on your mind. Aimply send an e-mail to Jonah Weiland with the subject line "Heroes Question" and we'll consider it for inclusion.

Want to talk "Heroes" with other fans? Join the discussion right here on the CBR Forums!

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