“Heroes” learns from “Lost”

Tall, lean “Heroes” creator Tim Kring looks like a tousled haired college professor who has somehow found himself thrust into the spotlight — and not quite knowing what all the fuss is about.

His series about a band of people with various super powers out to save the world — or destroy it — has tapped into the post-911, war-conflicted American zeitgeist. The series returns at 9 p.m. Monday on NBC-Channel 11 with all new episodes and is the standout hit on the struggling network. The series will air 23 episodes this season, and has a full season pickup for the 2007-08 season.

Kring says he was just a dreamy, spacey kind of kid growing up in the working class town of Pittsburg.

“I was a late bloomer, just trying to figure out the meaning of my own life,” Kring says. “I graduated from the only unaccredited high school in California. So I guess I didn’t really graduate, at least officially.”

He says he didn’t do much in high school that would have attracted much attention, and because he couldn’t qualify to go directly into a four-year university, he had to first attend a junior college.

At Allan Hancock Junior College in Santa Maria, the closest thing he came to a theater experience was being the photographer for the college’s Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts.

“I once had to walk across the stage and everything with black from the time I started the walk until I got to the other side of the stage,” Kring says of his first and only experience treading the boards. “I don’t even remember the name of the production.”

He went on to UC Santa Barbara, and then entered into the prestigious USC Film School.

Despite a somewhat rocky start, Kring certainly made his mark on television, albeit in a slow quiet kind of way. In 1982, he began a stint as a writer on “Knight Rider,” graduating to such series as “Providence” before creating the solid series “Crossing Jordan.”

“The truth is, I thought I was a huge success when I started making a living as a writer instead of waiting tables. There’s not much else I can do besides writing. I can’t even pound a nail,” Kring says. “When I got my own show on the air, ‘Crossing Jordan,’ I thought I had died and hit the lottery already.”

The interesting thing to Kring, he says, is that whether you are working on a hit show, a solid show or an average show, it doesn’t change the job.

“It’s only when you come to various events (like the Golden Globes or the TV critics press tour) or stand in line at the grocery store and see your show on the cover of magazines that you even notice that your show is a hit and you get that blast. (The popularity of `Heroes’) is still all anecdotal to me, and I’m a little skeptical of it,” Kring says. “The job doesn’t change. You still work in a crappy little office and eat the same lousy craft services food every day. ”

And you work with talented people, like a “Crossing Jordan” writer named Damon Lindelof on the staff.

While writing for “Jordan,” Lindelof was helping create a show called “Lost.”

Kring says he had the luxury of dong shows with people who worked on serialized dramas like “Desperate Housewives,” “24” and “Lost.”

“I had people on my (`Crossing Jordan’) staff who worked on those shows and I talked to them about what worked and didn’t work for their shows,” Kring says. “I knew I didn’t want to posit an ending point, like the ultimate goal of getting off an island, because it was too handicapping to the series.”

Kring says he went out to breakfast with Lindelof, and took long walks with him, sorting through the various problems Lindelof had encountered on “Lost.”

“I knew what he was going through with `Lost,’ so he was the first person I called and bounced everything off of him. He told me to stay away from this, or that he had trouble with that,” Kring says. “There was a lot of cross pollinazation.”

So he created a series with no real end point, and used the formula of “24” in which an obstacle must be overcome through the course of the season.

“This is absolutely a direct response to the audience frustration with `Lost.’ At the end of this season, they will have solved the problem of the nuclear blast, but that only leads them to another problem,” Kring says. “I think it will come as no surprise to anyone that we do save the world. The audience gets the payoff, the mystery solved, each season but there’s still an ongoing battle. And we can tell our stories about the ordinary people caught up in all of this.”

Much more interesting to Kring, and for that matter Lindelof and the “Lost” writers, is how to tell the stories of these characters.

By releasing himself from an ongoing mythology like “Lost,” Kring says he thinks his series will have a longer lifespan.

“For me, it’s much more interesting for me as a writer and for the viewers to follow the characters and how these powers affect their personal lives,” Kring says. “It’s as much fun breaking stories about Greg Grunberg’s character’s problems with his wife as the supernatural stuff. And we can go on forever when the stories we are writing are about people who have normal needs.”

Kring says growing up in Pittsburg gave him a view that might be different from other series’ creators.

“I grew up in a varied community, with a large black and Sicilian population, that might have helped me in casting the series,” Kring says. “It seems strange to cast a show in America that doesn’t look like America.”

As NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly says, Kring came in with a specific show and a specific vision for that show.

“The word vision gets thrown around a lot in this town, and when you see it in someone like Tim, you grab it,” Reilly says. “Minute one when he walked into the door with this series, we knew he had the show in his sight.”

And Reilly wasn’t the only one who knew this show was a potential breakout series.

Danville’s Nancy Tellem, who is the president of CBS Paramount Network Television, says she tried desperately to get this series.

“We tried, but in the end he decided to go with NBC because of his ‘Crossing Jordan’ ties there,” Tellem says.

What about those East Bay ties?

“Believe me, if I thought that would work, I would have played that card,” says Tellem with a laugh.

1 Comment

  1. Will said,

    January 25, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    The triumphant return of Heroes to the airwaves leaves viewers craving for more and setting their TiVo’s.

    Love it love it love it. Can’t wait to see where this all goes as we build to a season finale. I would say “Lesson Learned Mr. Kring”.

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