Heroes: Season 1 - Tim Kring interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
TIM Kring, the creator of Heroes, talks about his inspiration for the series, why he thinks it became such a phenomenon and why the series has plenty of legs left in it yet!
Q: Did an interest in writing start when you were at school?
A: Actually I didn’t really start writing till later. I was not a great student and did everything I could to avoid anything. It wasn’t until I got into my last couple of years at college that I discovered that I could communicate by writing. But I was intent on being a filmmaker and went to film school for production – I was interested in cinematography and cameras, all that stuff. Writing was just something you had to do to get through the curriculum at film school. I didn’t have any intention of being a screen writer. It wasn’t until a few years of working in production that I decided to sit down and write a script.
Q: What was the trigger?
A: There was a sort of fork in the road. I had a chance at one point to get into the union. LA is a company town – if this was Pittsburgh you would work in the steel mill – but in LA the thing is to work in film production. I had never seen myself as one of those guys but I had this opportunity and after doing film school I didn’t see myself as the sort of guy who was going to punch a clock every day. So I decided that since I loved the idea of film and communicating that I would sit down and write an idea that I had had for a while. I went out and got an agent who sent me to a million pitch meetings and I finally sold an episode for a TV show called Knight Rider. I had to write it in a week, the following week it was in production and for one week’s work they gave me more money than I could ever imagine having made.
My father was a high school track and field coach and so I made more in a week than he made in six months and it was that that made me realise I could actually make a living out of this.
Q: Initially, were you thinking more about making movies?
A: Yes. For a while I did work in both features and television. I had a unique career in doing both simultaneously. I was a sort of A-list TV writer and a C-list features writer. Compared to TV, I found features very frustrating. TV is a very immediate form and you get gratification very quickly. It’s a writer driven medium. With features there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. Everybody always had Tom Cruise attached to something. In TV, if you say that you have Tom Cruise attached then next Tuesday when we start production, if he’s not there I’ll know whether or not you are lying. The world of TV just seemed much more geared towards the writer.
At the same time, I was able to write social issues and important topics whereas in features I was just scrambling to get the next job of the pop culture.
Q: It has been said you suffer from a form of dyslexia?
A: I was never diagnosed but I was never a great reader and still to this day I have tremendous trouble reading. So because of that I was not a great student. I just suffered through at the back of the class. But I believe I developed a lot of other skills, like using my imagination. Every brain works differently and I think we compensate for things. Now that I have children I see how each of them approaches things and their strengths and weaknesses. Anyway, I compensated by being a great observer of people. Sitting at the back of the class can give you that advantage.
Q: All that suggests you probably were not very interested in comic books?
A: No, exactly. Whatever form of reading problem I had was exacerbated by the format of the comic book. The idea of where does your eye go to follow the balloons…
Q: So why did you come up with the brilliant idea of Heroes, which seems to have its roots in comic books?
A: First of all I approached it completely from a character point of view. I live in the same world that everybody else lives in and saw that American pop culture was being driven – especially in the summer – by big blockbuster, genre-oriented movies that were based on comic books. But the real reason was that I wanted to do a show that addressed some of the larger issues that I felt all of us were facing. Part of this is about raising a family and thinking about the world that they are going to inherit and realising that the world is really screwed up. That’s something that I think that everybody feels – that something has to give.
Between terrorism and global warming and diminishing natural resources, the world is out of balance. I started to think about wanting to make a statement about that and the average cop show, or law show, or medical show didn’t seem to have the foundation to deal with those issues and the scope and breadth that I wanted. So I thought about ordinary people making a difference in the world and what could incorporate a message of hope and that led me to this idea of ordinary people waking up to discover that they were extraordinary.
Q: Was The Incredibles on screens when you were developing this idea?
A: Yes. But I had already been thinking about my idea. There were two or three movies that I saw when I was ruminating about this and one was The Incredibles. Then I saw my friend Charlie Kauffman’s movie, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. I saw those two movies back to back on a Friday and a Saturday… one with my kids and one with my wife. Those two movies started swimming around in my head together and in many ways were very influential as I was thinking about this. The obvious one is The Incredibles, the not so obvious one is Eternal Sunshine… – but for me it was the attraction of the Kauffmanesque character, a very anonymous character. He creates people that you would walk past on the street and never think twice about them. I also liked the way that movie incorporated a sense of the supernatural with the idea of erasing people’s memory. But it was all rooted in a mundane and realistic
world. You draw from many things. The idea was brewing for a number of months before I sat down and put it to paper.
Q: How tough a sell was Heroes?
A: I was in a unique position. I had a successful show on the air and I was dealing with a network that was in trouble and needed to take a fairly bold stand. I was the right guy at the right time. And I knew how to navigate through the very difficult waters of getting a project up and through the ranks. If someone had just come in off the street with this I don’t know that it could have survived. I just kind of bullied it through in a way.
Q: Many great TV ideas have bitten the dust. How did you avoid that?
A: It’s all about the ratings – it’s such a bottom line business. This could have been the most brilliant show in the world and if only 12 people saw it, it would have been gone in three episodes. There are many reasons why Heroes took off. A very large campaign happened on the Internet last summer, which was launched at Comicom. It was chatted about on hundreds of websites before it launched. The tracking that we did on the Internet was fairly huge and we were certain it was going to come out with a bang. But the truth is, I think it captured the imagination for many reasons… it was very different from anything else, secondly the message of hope and inter connectivity and healing – a wish fulfilment that we as ordinary people can possess these powers – was a huge part of the success. In a time when we are a country at war and facing huge problems that this idea that it was as easy as…‘Save the cheerleader – save the world!’ was a very hopeful message.
I believe that there’s something else going on – this idea of the world seeming very small. It’s a message that people are hungry for. We have a government that rules by a certain amount of fear, we live in a fearful world and so to watch a show that presents a message that what happens 10,000 miles away really does affect you in your small town is a very powerful message.
Q: The series is filled with interesting characters…
A: First and foremost there is somebody for everybody in Heroes.
Q: A favourite character is Bennett…
A: We call him HRG – Horn Rimmed Glasses – and his is an extraordinary story. He had maybe eight lines in the pilot episode and it was the strength of and power of Jack Coleman as an actor who brought so much life to that character. I remember talking to Jack very early on and saying that the secret of this character is that you play the idea of being an absolutely loving and committed father equally to the passion that you play a hardened killer. He plays both of those with such conviction that it keeps you off-balance. He is a very intriguing character.
Q: The series seems to go back to the days of the Saturday matinee and the cliff-hanger ending?
A: In many ways that is a bar that we have to meet each week. Topping yourself becomes very difficult. Early on, the network feared we were using up too many stories. They thought we were going to run out but we said we wouldn’t because this story was self-generating; the more twists and turns, the more reveals, the more stories you can generate. It is a very dynamic and exciting way to tell stories.
Q: Does it mean there is no end to where Heroes can go?
A: Yes, and that was very much designed by looking at shows that had sort of posited endings of series and realising when you do that you box yourself into which direction you can go. I was committed to the idea of having it very open-ended. Since it posits the idea that this is happening all over the world, the people you have got used to in this season may not even be the ones that take us to the end of the show.
Q: Do you always have a note pad nearby so you can scribble ideas as they come to you?
A: I wish it were as organised as a note pad. It is scraps of paper and now my I-phone. I carry a little digital memo recorder so I can speak into. When I tell someone an idea I say they’ll remember it because I won’t. I have always said that some of the best ideas I have had, I’ve just plain forgotten by the next day.