Comic-Con: 'Heroes Reborn' Boss Talks Rewriting the Show's Legacy, Potential Follow-Ups

Tim Kring opens up about how a smaller episode order changes the fabric of the series, returning characters, killing the cheerleader and plans to save the world (again).
Christos Kalohoridis/NBC

Heroes creator Tim Kring is hoping diehard fans of the sci-fi drama give the series another look with NBC's follow-up, Heroes Reborn.

The original drama, which burned bright right out of the gate when it launched in 2006, became a television phenomenon. However, the stretched-out storytelling of a 22-episode season led to some unfortunate creative missteps — ones that Kring has been vocal about in the past few years — and fans jumped ship in droves by the time the series ended abruptly after its fourth season.

Now, five years later, Kring and NBC are bringing the drama back with a mixture of returning fan favorites and a roster of new "evolved humans" as Kring and company look to save the world again after the shocking death of formerly indestructible cheerleader Claire.

Here, Kring opens up in a frank interview with The Hollywood Reporter about using Reborn as an opportunity to rewrite the show's legacy, a plan for more beyond Reborn — starring Zachary Levi — and how the show will explain missing original characters while still appealing to a new audience who may have bypassed (or quit) the original.  

Why was it the time right to revisit Heroes?

There was always a pretty strong fan base for the show, even when it was canceled. That year, we were the No. 1 most-downloaded show in the world. There was still a strong audience for the show but the paradigm had shifted in the way people were consuming content — and that demographic was starting to find shows like Heroes on other platforms. But now with the way shows are being presented with shorter runs and a smaller commitment to the audience — in this case, 13 episodes — it promises a beginning, middle and end so that the audience can now digest a show like Heroes.

Will this be a contained season or is there a potential to get a back-nine?

There’s been no talk other than this 13-episode event. We presented this show [originally] in volumes, and volumes have a beginning, a middle and end and would tell a separate story and then start again with something new. The premise of the show is elastic enough to reboot. It has a basic premise — there are an undetermined number of people waking up to the idea that they have these powers — and we can always start with people's origin stories. Plus the world always needs saving and that is a continual premise of the show. We've saved the world a few times, and the promise of Heroes is that it’s about ordinary people who come together to save world. So it feels like it can be rebooted, relaunched and recast as a franchise more than just an ongoing saga with the same characters.

Have you thought about doing more prequels beyond the upcoming comic book?

Right now, we're focusing on this but there's a couple of obvious ideas. We’re starting the show five years after the end of the last one, so it's exactly the amount of time that's passed in the story. There is a bit of mystery as to what those intervening five years were all about, and I think that would make a very interesting story.

Will viewers need to have seen the first four seasons to understand what's going on here?

This has been designed to be friendly to anyone who has not seen the original. You'll be able to pick up from the beginning of the series and know who to invest in or what they're trying to find out. That being said, we do want to honor those people who committed to the last series. There is a lot of mythology layered in that people who watched the former show will find — all those Easter eggs — and have a deeper experience than if you had not watched the show before. There will be hidden messages and secrets in there for anybody who knows the show; they'll see all kinds of familiar themes and references. It does rely a bit on the backstory where in the final moments Claire Bennett (Hayden Panettiere) outed herself to the entire world in front of news cameras when she jumped off this Ferris Wheel, lands on the ground and regenerates in front of the entire world watching on TV. That's where we end the series. So when we pick up, the world now knows about these people and has had five years to come to terms with them. Knowing the final moments and the struggles these people had before in a world where they were not out does help you as a viewer.

The upfront trailer indicated that Claire is dead. Are you going to get into how you weren't able to "save the cheerleader"? How will her absence be explained?

Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman) is a key [returning] character who is still very much dealing with the death of his daughter, and it is a part of his story. You’re watching a man dealing with the idea of the loss of his daughter that happened prior to our story. We deal directly with that that death. Her death is the key part of the plot.

How much does her death kick off the new story?

To the extent that he is reawaked to this mystery in the pilot — that's what drives him to discover the truth about what’s happening in the world — through this mystery of what happened to his daughter. It’s the portal of his story that becomes the mystery, the thriller story for him: "I need to know what happened to my daughter." 

You had been vocal in the past about previous creative missteps in season two and beyond in terms of pacing and providing answers quicker. What lessons did you learn from the past that helped inform how you approach this reboot?

Having an ending that's predetermined by the number of episodes has helped avoid some of pitfalls of this kind of storytelling. This 13-episode arc means you can tell a very aggressive story with a lot happening in every episode with lots of twists and turns. Because you don't have that doldrum of those middle episodes in a long season where you're trying to arc toward an ending that doesn't give everything away but gives some of it away. Having to complete every aspect of the story in 13 episodes eliminates a lot of the pitfalls of serialized storytelling. In some ways, it's like a distilled, condensed version of doing a longer arcing series, but not having to deal with what you call "the art of the stall," where you have to stretch things out to make sure you're fulfilling enough entertainment without giving away too much. All that is eliminated in this 13-episode arc.

Is this season similar in tone and pacing to any of the originals? Would you say it’s aligned with season one or has a completely different tone and pacing?

This whole event series has its own rhythm to it. The world we're inhabiting is a very different world. In the first series, when someone would wake up to a power, it would be an existential mystery of "why is it happening, what does it mean, how am I connected?" In the world that we are inhabiting now, when you wake up to this happening to you, you know what it is because it means you are what we call an "Evo." There was no reason for the public to have a name for these people before, but now that a portion of the public is known as people with powers, they call them Evos, short for evolved humans. Being an Evo is not a good thing. Having these powers is not a good thing because it means you are going to be persecuted and hunted and your life is going to be hell. That is the different rhythm to the story. It's no longer so much about an existential discovery; it really hits the ground running with a much more cranked up premise.

Is there a general theme? These people with powers sound like a great metaphor for society and civil rights.

There is an inherent idea that you can't write around it. It just is that. Some of it is the backdrop of the world they live in. If you 're an Evo, you have to register and people have to know who you are and you have to be tracked. It's very discriminated against. It's hard to avoid social comparisons to oppressed minorities. The plot takes over quickly and it becomes less about that and more about the continuing theme on Heroes: How are we connected to one another? How do we find one another and how do we save the world? There’s still that idea of interconnectivity and global consciousness that we have to figure out how to come together to save the world from catastrophe.

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There are a few original characters missing here, Zachary Quinto among them. How will you explain their absense?

I felt pretty strongly that I did not want have so many references to things in the previous series. You could feel alienated if you don’t know the meaning of the name Sylar. Fortunately, we have a whole bunch of people who do return within the story in an explainable way that fans of previous show will get a real thrill by seeing them. And if you didn't know who those characters are, their presence in the show will make perfect sense because they’ll have been explained to you.

Christine Rose (Angela) is back but Adrian Pasdar (Nathan) and Milo Ventimiglia (Peter) will not be returning. Why bring her back but not the others?

Nathan Petrelli was killed in the fourth season, so try as I may — because I love Adrian — I couldn't figure out how to do that without betraying the core mythology of the show. As for Milo, we've had discussions about how and when [he could come back] and we couldn’t work out the timing. But Angela plays a key Machiavellian character in this plot. She did have a power that was very interesting to our plot.

Are you hoping to sort of reset the narrative about Heroes and rewrite the show's legacy with Reborn?

I am in a unique position to get a second chance to bring something back to the world that you really care about. I don't think I've spent a lot of time thinking about what revisionist history is going to be about the original. I took it more as a challenge about the elasticity of this brand: Is there a way to relaunch this whole idea and premise in a new and exciting way? When we first launched, we looked and felt like nothing else out there, and that was part of its popularity — because it was new and unique — and its hard to stay shiny and new and keep that going for multiple seasons. I do think the power of the story and the power of the premise is strong enough to reboot. We really want to earn our way back to the audience. I don't think it's about beating our chest and saying how wonderful the show was. If viewers give us a second chance, we’re very committed to telling a story that’s going to be exciting and rewarding.

If the ratings are there and it sounds like you’ve got ample ideas for follow-ups, would you be interested in doing Reborn Chapter Two or Volume Two?

I do see that there is more story to tell. I’ve always loved the idea that the show can live on multiple platforms in multiple ways. Part of learning how to tell the story in multiple platforms the first time around really changed my view of how to look at the narrative. It doesn’t have to live in one linear place. If we got the opportunity to tell more, yes, I have more story I can come up with.

Stay tuned to The Live Feed for more Heroes coverage from Comic-Con. Heroes Reborn premieres Thursday, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. on NBC. To sign up for Live Feed TV alerts for news and scoop on your favorite shows, please go to THR.com/FeedNews

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit

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