TV Q&A: TIM KRING
The ‘Heroes’ creator talks about Season 2’s missteps, how the writers’ strike changes the show and the secrets revealed at the end of Vol. 2
By Kiel Phegley
Posted November 12, 2007 11:05 AM
When it comes to NBC’s “Heroes,” the show must go on—at least through December.
Although the Writers Guild of America’s strike over DVD and new media revenue has put production of the network’s scripted series to a halt, the powerhouse Monday night series has enough episodes completed to last though the holidays and through its Volume 2 finale. And while the early episodes of the “Generations” arc have drawn some sharp criticism from fans online, series creator Tim Kring has been talking candidly about the state of the show while he and the rest of his writing staff are on strike. In anticipation of this week’s episode, which sees the characters on “Heroes” flash back to the time before Season 2 began, Kring talks about why the season’s detractors should wait before casting their final vote, reveals how the writer’s strike will affect the story’s future and compares himself to a crack dealer in terms of connecting with his audience.
WIZARD: There’s this little interview that you did on Entertainment Weekly’s website that was e-mailed around endlessly last week. You talked about the pacing of the show coming into Season 2 and the fan reaction, but it seems that the upcoming episodes are going for more of that bang that people have been missing.
KRING: Yeah, but now the problem is that you can’t do that from the very beginning because you have to have story in order to have things pay off. You can’t just tell story without it. You’ve got to build to something. So therein is the quandary. How do you build a story when all the audience really wants is crack? That for us has really been a very big quandary. You need to build a foundation of characters that you care about and storylines that you care about before you start paying off things. It’s hard to make a reveal mean anything if you haven’t waited a little while for it. So it’s a very difficult position with this kind of television show. The relationship with the audience is extremely fragile compared to most shows. It’s more akin to a gladiator match where every week you get a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, on a week-to-week basis that a lot of shows don’t necessarily have. In looking back, what’s difficult for us as a writing staff is to try and analyze what mistakes or what missteps were made. It’s very difficult. We make these episodes sometimes six months before you see them, and the irony for us is that we’re making episodes right now that are among the best episodes that we’ve ever done. And so we’re slapping each other on the back for having been doing such a fabulous job, and in the meantime the hardcore fans are having trouble with what they’re seeing on the air. So there’s this strange disconnect there.
Is it easier as a writing staff for you guys in that you don’t have to worry about fan reaction until you’ve had some done and gotten your own creative juices flowing?
KRING: The worst thing that can happen is to start saying, ”I wonder if the audience would like this? Maybe the audience would like this.” We never did that last year. Not one time did we do that. We never said, “I think the audience would like this.” We didn’t think in those terms, and it’s a very dangerous thing on a show to start backing into story based on what you think the audience is going to like. The truth is that there’s chocolate and vanilla and there’s strawberry. Everybody likes something different. So all you can do is make the show that you want to make and hope that your tastes are general enough that you’re going to get a lot of people who also like it. It’s a very complicated relationship to have with an audience. In looking back I think there were a couple of missteps. The biggest, and I think it could’ve been solved with really one thing, which is had we had Peter teleport to the future and see the devastation of the world because of this virus, then everything would’ve been filtered through that. Then when you met Maya and Alejandro and you realize that Maya can excrete a plague then you would go, “Oh, I see how that’s going to connect.” But now you’re watching it disconnected and wondering why.
The truth is, listen, this time last year people were scratching their heads and wondering what the show was about and wondering where it was going. We built exactly the same pace last year, exactly. People were saying, “When are these people going to get together?” Well, we got them together in episode 9, believe it or not, last year. Episode 9 is where they finally came together, and then we had to tear them apart because you can’t tell story once they’re all together. So it’s a real balancing act. In many ways we made many, many, many more mistakes and missteps in the first season than we did in this season. This is much tighter storytelling, and I think more efficient storytelling. It’s just that we’re not brand new anymore. Listen, if you sit down to watch your favorite movie 14 times on DVD, by the 15th time you say, “I wonder why this movie isn’t as funny as it was when I first started watching it. Why isn’t it as exciting as the first time I saw this movie?” That’s just the nature of making a television show. It’s not shiny and new ever again. So you have to sort of recalibrate what your experience is going to be as a viewer.
Monday’s episode “Four Months Ago” brings back the popular trick of revealing bits of character by stepping back in time, specifically to the events that occurred between Seasons 1 and 2. Do you expect that to deliver a bit more of what fans have asked for?
KRING: Oh, [“Four Months Ago”] is an absolute mindblower, and then the week after that is going to be the most talked-about show of the season. So we’re on a complete roll, and I just saw episode 10. I just locked episode 10 in the editing room, and it’s another absolute barnburner. Then the season finale that Jeph [Loeb] wrote is just going to blow people’s minds. I’m getting tired of the conversation of what went wrong with our show while we’re making the best episodes we’ve ever made. It’s a complete and ridiculous disconnect for us that’s almost surreal. While we’re, like I said, high-fiving each other over how great we’re making the show we’re reading all this stuff on the Internet like, “What? How did that happen? What happened?” On a show like this you don’t have the same relationship with the audience as a procedural show. On a show like this, if you make a misstep you fall off a cliff with the viewer because they take the show very personally and they’re very passionate about it, so their reactions are very passionate. So it’s not like you just slightly disappointed them, but you’ve hurt their feelings and hurt them personally by not being as good a show as they want it to be.
Thinking then about the stuff we’re going to be seeing tonight and beyond, the Company has been so much more involved this season in so many more ways. The two fronts we’ve been seeing the fight go on are what’s happening between HRG and Claire and the virus storyline which seems to have been touching so many different people.
KRING: Those things all coming to a head in basically 7, 9, 10 and 11. Eight is a departure episode because it’s four months ago, but it fills in those things as well. Clearly in 7, 9, 10 and 11 those stories converge. Again, not to sort of make an excuse about this, but you are rewarded for having watched all these things. They do have greater meaning because of all the information that you have, and that information obviously takes several episodes to do. The payoff of what happens in episode 9 with Claire and her dad would not be as powerful if you hadn’t seen them go through all the things that they’ve gone through so far.
HRG as a character is the best example of an aspect of the show where half of the time you see a character or the Company or the plotline and you think you know what it is. Then weeks later it flips again and you don’t know if you can trust it anymore. By the end of Volume 2, will people have a definitive feeling of what to root for and what not to root for, or is it still going to be a kind of gray area where we’ll still be riding that tension?
KRING: Well, in terms of the Company, the Company takes a major change. It’s a major, major change at the end of episode 11 and at the very beginning of the next volume. It takes a completely new direction. So that question will become kind of moot at 11; it really is the end of a volume. Every question that’s sort of hanging out there right now is wrapped up. So we’re looking at Volume 2 as a finale, a real finale. In a weird sort of kismet kind of way, it might end up being a finale—a season finale—if we don’t resolve this strike. Thankfully we have a finale for the viewers. It might be a shortened season, but it’s a true finale. It’s not like the show just sort of ended in midstream. So I think that pretty much all of these questions will be answered. You’ll have no questions and that’s always good, but not quite the same questions. You won’t have any of the same questions, I don’t think, at the end of this volume. We will do enough of a change-up so that we can start a whole new set of questions.
The finale of Volume 2 is one thing in regards to the strike that will work in your favor, but how can you compare the strike experience now to the last strike in ’88? You were writing both for movies and in television during that time. Do you have specific memories of the strike then as compared to now?
KRING: Well, the truth is that I was in a very, very different position. I obviously was not employing 400 people and I didn’t have a wife and children and I didn’t have a mortgage and so I was much less personally—I had much less at stake in the last one. For me the last one was oddly benign. I wrote a spec script, and I sold that spec script when the strike was over, and I was a freelance writer who worked out of my apartment anyway. So I didn’t have the shock of my office locked up and not having the ability to go to work. To me, it was a very, very different strike. I was in a very different place in my career. I can’t, in a personal way, compare the two.
So after the strike, whether it’s short or long, you’re going to go right back into the show, but for now are you running around trying to make sure that your staff is finding their own way and playing father to everything “Heroes,” even though you’re not in the office?
KRING: Yes, exactly. Last night I cooked dinner for the whole staff because I’ve vowed to at least feed them. I’m trying, as much as I can, to be a voice of moderation because I really do believe that while there is militancy on both sides of this issue, that’s not where a strike is going to be settled. It’s going to be settled somewhere in the middle, and those voices need to start to emerge. Right now it’s literally—the shock has really been felt by everybody. When you suddenly go from the adrenaline of making a show, making a big show, a big expensive show, a big hit show—when you go from that to literally standing on a corner holding a sign all day long, that’s a very hard left turn for us to make and very surreal. So it’s just the first few days of this, and everybody is literally in a kind of surreal shock right now over it. I think the strike has hit much harder all around town than anyone thought it was going to in terms of the kind of dread and depression that set in as soon as it hit. The fact that it went on for five months last time is really giving everyone pause.
I don’t think it’s going to be an afterthought at any point soon.
KRING: Yeah, no. I’m still actually, strangely, very optimistic for this thing to get resolved fairly quickly. That’s not based on any inside knowledge at all. It’s really just based on the idea that I believe it’s so devastating to the business that something has to give. I don’t know that either side really has the wherewithal to have it last for that long.