The most popular event at Comic-Con International this past summer was very arguably the "Heroes" panel. Fans of the NBC series began lining up outside the San Diego Convention Center at midnight the night before just to make sure they could secure a seat and get an advance look at the first hour of the new season of the hit show.
By all accounts, fans weren't disappointed with what they saw. For as many old questions that were answered, many new ones were asked. We may have found out who shot Nathan Petrelli, but who is Tracey Strauss? What was Sylar fishing around for inside Claire's head, and how can Linderman be back from the dead?
CBR News caught up with writer, creator and executive producer Tim Kring to talk about "Volume Three: Villains," which premieres September 22 on NBC. Kring spoke candidly about how the Writers Strike affected his plans for the second season, what was lost as a result, and his role in Zachary Quinto being cast in "Star Trek."
CBR: As fans at this year's Comic-Con International saw, the first hour of the two-hour "Villains" premiere answers a lot of questions, but asks some new ones. How long until we find out the answers to some of these new questions?
Tim Kring: Some of those questions will linger a little bit, but actually I think by about the end of the third hour of the show you'll have most of those answered. One of the goals of this season was, because we will have been off the air for nine months, we didn't want to drag a lot of story behind us. We didn't want it to feel like you had to have watched two years of this show to catch up. So we wanted things to move 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 really not a lot of lingering questions that you will carry with you from before.
The goal for us from now on with these volumes is to try and answer literally ninety-five percent of the questions that are posed in the beginning of the volume and answer them by the end of the volume. This particular volume, "Villains," is thirteen episodes long and the second volume this season is twelve episodes long.
Did you enjoy the fans' reaction at Comic-Con and how does their input affect what you do the rest of the season?
I would love to say that it does affect us but the truth is -- well, let me give you an example. The truth is when we premiere on September 22, we will be just starting to shoot episode thirteen. Which is the finale of this volume. To the extent that we could have had any input from the audience after people had seen it at Comic-Con, I mean we're so far ahead that there was nothing we could do about it. So unfortunately, the audience is very far behind where we are, creatively, on the show. There's not much that we can do about it to change things.
The interesting thing is that we come at the show internally as the writers, producers and actors, as real fans of this particular genre and real fans of this show. So we have to use our own sort of internal critics to let us know where we're going. We very often have made course changes midway through when we've looked at episodes internally and tried to feel what the audience would feel, and have said, "You know, what I think we need to do is go in this direction. We've used this devise too many times, lets start doing this." So we very much are our own fanbase while we're making the show.
Were you satisfied with your work on Season Two and how did last year's WGA Strike affect the show?
The truth is that what you are referring to as Season-Two is not really our Season Two. It turned out to be Season-Two because of the Writers Strike. It was really like watching a movie and having the projector break forty minutes into it. So what we're doing now for Season Three was really going to be contained within the body of Season Two. To the extent of a character like Sylar, who spent the first volume of Season Two without his powers, in the subsequent volumes he would have gotten all of his powers back and then gone on a series of adventures. So I just wanted to clarify that what people are referring to as Season Two was not by our design, it was really by the design of the fact that there was a Writers Strike.
So obviously the break was very difficult for many people. The crew, the cast and the writers were all out of work and unemployed for all that time and it was very difficult. It was also difficult for the audience not to be able to have the remaining episodes, more than half of the season was truncated that way. But the sliver lining is that it allowed us a little bit of a break from the creative day-to-day of the show that had been pretty relentless for three years. So with any creative endeavor, you just absolutely need sometime away to reassess and think about what to do next and to assess what you've done well and what you want to improve on.
What was lost during the Writers Strike as far as the virus storyline and will we ever find out what happened to Caitlin?
The virus story was really the casualty of the strike. We retooled the last couple of minutes of the finale to Volume Two when we knew that the Strike was eminent. We changed the ending so that that virus never broke out. The second volume of Season Two was going to be an outbreak story that would have lasted eight episodes and it was all avoided by Peter Pertelli catching this vile of virus. So it did not break and therefore did not get out in to the community. So three episodes into that volume, we would have found out what happened to Caitlin. As we go forward, after the Writers Strike now, that has sort of become a lost part of the mythology of the show that may never return.
When "Heroes" began, most of the characters on the show were good guys. When did you realize that you needed a villain in your cast and when did you decide that you would continue Sylar's arc throughout the series?
Well, Sylar was always designed to stay around. We knew that we really could not have heroes without villains. So it was kind of built into the premise. Also what was built into the premise was this idea that these are ordinary people, to the extent that they make decisions that are based on who they are and what circumstances they find them selves in, and that determines whether they will be good or evil. If you are predisposed to be good and you have superpowers then you will use it for something good. If you're predisposed to be bad then you will use it for something evil. So it was always built into the premise that the core group of people would be tempted by the circumstances that they're in.
What does an actor like Zachary Quinto bring to the role of Sylar?
You can't do a character like Sylar, who is deep and complex, without having the actor who can play those colors and that depth. Zach has really sort of provided us with the ability to explore this character in really, really deep ways. I see Sylar as someone who's on a very deep existential quest to find out the meaning of his own existence, where he came from and what is driving him. We will continue to peal the layers off of that onion as long as this character exists on the show.
Can you talk about the part you played in Zachary Quinto getting the role of Spock in next summer's "Star Trek?"
I don't think I'm speaking out of school to say this but [Hollywood's] a small community, in many ways. There's a real lineage of relationships between me and the people who do the television show "Lost." And the people who do the television show "Lost" are the people who ended up doing "Star Trek." So they were fans of my work and I'm a fan of their work. We see each other all the time, so Zach's name obviously came up and conversations were had about making that possible. In some ways, it happened on a very kind of human level of friendship behind the scenes.
The truth is, we would have had to loose the character of Sylar for the better part of the season [while Quinto was filming "Star Trek"] had the strike not hit. One of the upsides of it is that there will be a real sense of continuity for the audience when they pick up the show. They won't have that sense that one of the major characters dropped away for a while. In that respect, it was a huge advantage to have the strike fall where it did in the whole thing.
Did Quinto's involvement in "Star Trek" change your plans at all? Does Sylar have a larger role in this Volume than he would have had the Strike not happened?
This was the story we wanted to tell: This particular volume, called "Villains," was going to be the third volume of the second season. And we were going to be able to fold Sylar's character in, but probably not in as big a way as if we had to shoot while Zach was gone. We would have found a way to incorporate him. Because of the way we shoot the show, often we're able to drop a certain characters' storyline in afterwards. We can shoot all of someone like Zach's scenes for multiple episodes and then drop them in. That's one of the advantages of shooting a kind of big multi-storyline show.
Even though Sylar is evil, he is clearly supposed to be sympathetic to the audience. Do you plan to continue that aspect of the character or will we see a different side of him this season?
To be really honest, that is sort of a quest with this character, to continue to play off of the duality of good an evil -- which I think has been at the core of a lot of characters on this show and certainly will become more thematic to the show this season in "Villains," where so many of our characters will be faced with these choices of who are they really and what is their base nature. So yeah, we are going in places with this particular volume with Sylar that will, I think, cause the audience to be really torn as to how they feel about this guy. They know that he's 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. He'll have a series of very human relationships in this volume alone.
Are there a lot of new characters being added this season and if so, will some of the main characters be featured more prominently than others?
This season, we are not really introducing any new characters that have their own storylines. We are concentrating pretty much on the core characters that we've had for two seasons now. We have a certain style of storytelling where there are multiple characters in multiple stories going on at the same time. The difference in this volume, "Villains," is that they are all feeding on one, big, giant story. So no, we are not really planning on featuring anybody anymore than anybody else. 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 balance out.
It's something that I sort of refer to as "Haiku Storytelling." This idea of being able to "Name That Tune." I can "Name That Tune" in three story beats. Or I can "Name That Tune" in four story beats. In other words, you take a story that would normally take ten beats to tell it and you try to find a way to tell it in five. So it makes for a very exciting kind of storytelling where every scene is very complete and very full.
Rumor is that Dr. Mohinder Suresh will be getting a power this season. Do you feel that you might be in danger of loosing the ordinary human aspect of the show?
I would say yes and no. It's one of the great challenges of doing a serialized story, trying to keep the audience guessing and to keep things fresh. What we've always prided ourselves on is the ability to have the audience not be able to predict where we're going. Hopefully with Suresh, just when you think you have figured out what his role will be for the rest of the series, he'll change again and we'll reinvent where that character is. But somebody needs to be able to play the role of the outsider on this show, so I'll just say, stay tuned to see who that is. It will be someone you know already.
Can you talk about the role that family will play on the show this season?
Well, it's interesting that you say that because the truth is it's all about family this season. At the core of this particular volume, we're exploring the idea and the nature of dysfunction among family. There are two families that are at the core of this show: the Bennett Family and the Petrelli Family. Both of them will be tested and tugged in ways that you haven't seen before.
Will we learn anymore about the "Original Twelve" that were featured in the photo seen last season?
You actually will see a few more of them. 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. Basically, it was the idea of the sins of the parents being visited upon their children. We will see that some of those people survived in a very interesting and curious ways. In volume three, there are still some remnants of that previous generation.
Do you feel that "Heroes" is held to a higher standard because it was such a big hit early on in its run?
I think that is always the nature of something that hits in a big way. It's very hard to be shiny and new all the time. Of course, that's something that always concerns us, but there's not a whole lot that we can do, we just make the story that we make. As for how the season was judged, I think that fans that really stuck with the show saw what ended up being the second half of that volume finally come together in 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 that story went. In the second season, as I said, there were thirteen episodes that will never be seen, so I think it was obviously very hard to judge it as a whole with really over half of it never being seen. So that's kind of all I can say about it.
"Heroes Volume Three: Villains" begins September 22 on NBC.