Heroes on NBC

A group of ordinary people discover amazing powers, and what they do with those powers can help save the world. “Heroes” has showcased this idea so well that the show has become a sort of savior for the embattled NBC network. Despite many critics' predictions that the series (which airs Monday nights at 9) had only a slender chance for survival, “Heroes” has become a surprise hit.

It seems audiences like the doom-and-gloom premise of “a seemingly random group of individuals” who discover they have extraordinary abilities. This motley group includes a Japanese office dweeb with the power to teleport himself; a junkie artist who paints a very dark future that keeps coming true; a politician and his brother who suddenly can fly; a single mother with a go-for-the-jugular alter-ego; a cop who can hear people’s thoughts and a cheerleader who won’t die no matter what awful thing happens to her.

James Endrst, a New-York based writer and former television critic, recently caught up with the creator/executive producer of “Heroes,” Tim Kring, whose credits include “Crossing Jordan” and “Providence,” to talk about the show’s popularity, and the need for heroes in today’s world.

Is this a story about comic book heroes, or is this about Armageddon? It certainly seems to have that dark cloud hanging over it.

Clearly it’s about both. But I don’t see it as being as dark as that. I see it ultimately as being somewhat hopeful--that the Earth has populated itself with people who are going to do something about these bigger issues. In the first season, we are going to deal with the prophecy of this apocalyptic event that is set up in the pilot. But we will move on to another major idea in the second season.

So the world lives.

If the series wants to live.

Is this about good and evil? About the ordinary man or woman with extraordinary abilities to deal with extraordinary circumstances and times?

The show takes its lineage much more from classic mythology. This is about heroes rising out of obscurity and being forced into a situation where they are presented with a gift. It’s about the whole learning process of trying to figure out how to use that gift and what to use it for. And ultimately it’s about how the hero is drawn to a higher purpose along the way.

How did you decide which superpowers you wanted and which characters those powers would belong to?

I started thinking about the different characters. And many of the powers sort of met the character half way. I knew that I wanted to do a story that involved a single mother who was really struggling to make ends meet and who is really stretched about as far as you could go. And I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to have the power to be able to be two places at the same time, or to have a protective part of her that comes out, ala Mr. Hyde or the Hulk, that would actually make her life easier?

With the cop character, I started thinking about a lowly beat cop, and I wanted that character to get an ability that would change his life dramatically on the force and allow him to rise up the ranks. I realized that power would be the ability to hear people’s thoughts, because he would instantly know who was telling the truth and who wasn’t, where the money was buried, and where the drugs were stashed.

Hiro, the Japanese character, is an archetype for anybody who feels trapped in a life that’s not of his own making, caught as a worker drone in a sea of cubicles. It’s a drab life that there seems to be no way out of. And he literally has the ability to teleport himself out of that life and into great adventure. So the abilities came out of who the character was.

What about the cheerleader on the other side?

The cheerleader is another character in who the power develops in a strange sort of way. The idea is that teenagers feel they’re invincible and indestructible. And sure enough, the cheerleader is. I was also playing with the idea of being the most popular, of the desire to be popular, and then having to confront an ability that makes you completely different from everybody around you. It’s an exploration of the alienation you feel when the last thing you want to feel as a teenager is different.
Is this a show where our heroes might change, come and go, or disappear in some way?

One of the hallmarks of the show was going to be this happening all over the place, and then more [heroes] cropping up as others disappear. One of the dilemmas we’re facing is that the casting was so successful.

Everybody’s terrific in their parts, and so it’s getting harder to think about who is going to go. It’s actually a kind of high-class problem to have. But the truth is these abilities can go away, and some of [the characters] die. We have to do this to reinvent the show. That’s one of the things most refreshing about this idea--it allows you [to create] bold new characters.

I had a professor at a Jesuit university who told my class there were no more real heroes in our generation. Do you think that’s true?

I kind of do. And I think this did come from that as well. I’m raising kids right now [and] feeling very much like they’re growing up in a time where there are no heroes. We’re living in very complicated times right now, and there is a certain amount of comfort in presenting a world where there are people whose role is to be the hero.

Is the message here that we all have to be our own heroes?

The ordinariness of the characters’ lives is what I think people are relating to. There is a transparency between the viewer and the show in terms of the types of characters that you’re watching. You feel like that could be me, or that’s like somebody I went to high school with. You feel that this could happen to you, and maybe this is happening to you.

Of course these characters are experiencing this in some form of supernatural ability. But I think it does tap into that sort of wish fulfillment that your life can turn on a dime, or that you’re meant for something special. I think most people feel that their lives are meant for more than what they’re living at this time.

Did you have heroes growing up? How does your background fit into this show?

I don’t know see a whole lot of crossover. I grew up in the '60s and the early ‘70s in Northern California. I had a sense that the world was going to change, and there were people making a real difference. I don’t know if people do experience the world the same way now. So maybe I did feel that was certainly a possibility when I was growing up, that there was someone who could come along to make a real difference. I had very sort of left-leaning parents who were idealistic about the idea of changing the world.

This story has the spirit of a global village. You have people from all walks of life from all around the world. What’s behind that, and what made that important to you?

The real savior of the world is the ability to see yourself in other people and to realize how much you share in common, as opposed to how different you are. Anybody who travels sees that the world is no longer the big place it used to be. Everywhere you go is a certain similar vibe, and some of it is very bad.

But it just seemed necessary that if I was going to posit the idea of heroes in an evolutionary way, then it would have to go beyond the Southern California look of blonde-haired, blue-eyed people. I wanted the show to look like not only America, but like the world. I am just intrigued by the idea of these disparate characters. How do a Japanese office worker and a high school cheerleader in Texas have anything in common with one another? And the truth on this show is they do. There’s something empowering about that.

When these characters really meet up, do they become sort of like the Fantastic Four, Five, Six, Seven?

We feel an aversion to that. The whole idea of the show was what would happen if you suddenly discovered you had special powers? The last thing you would do is don a spandex suit and go out and fight crime. [These powers] would be extremely disruptive to your life and angst providing.

There’s a reality to how these characters have to live their lives as sort of an anathema to forming a Justice League And the spirituality of the show is a real undercurrent. ”Heroes” is not necessarily religious, but it addresses those large questions that religion talks about--meaning, fate and purpose, and it seems to set a tone for a kind of mythic adventure that we’re on.

Do you see any real-life heroes out there?

I’m sure there are many, many of them in terms of your own community. And I think that’s the best way to define heroes--in your own small sphere of life. We are living in a much more cynical world that likes to take people down rather than build them up. It’s very hard to sustain a heroic persona because the second that you do, some reporter’s job will be to make something up and take that person down.
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