If there was any upside to the writers strike for the crew from Heroes, it was allowing creator Tim Kring and his fellow scribes to step back from the grind of production and figure out what worked and didn’t work from the half-season they’d just completed.
"Clearly the audience is really not very interested in a very — in a slow build on this show. They want to hit the ground running," Kring says, referring to frequent complaints that last season’s "Generations" arc took too long to get where it was going. "And so it gave us a little time to figure out just how to do that. …
"And we think with Volume 3, ‘Villains,’ that we sort of we figured that out, how to hit the ground running in a really quick way that has a tremendous amount of adrenalin."
The reason Kring says "Volume 3" rather than "season three," by the way, is because this season of Heroes will feature two complete story arcs — "Villains" will run for 13 episodes, and the next, currently unnamed volume will go for 12 in the second half of the TV season.
The idea behind breaking up the show like that is to "not get caught in a lot of the problems that most serialized storytelling has, where you become impenetrable to the audience after years and years of one continuous story."
"We created this paradigm where you can create a volume, answer 95 percent of questions in that volume, and move on to another storyline for the audience so that we can keep energizing the story and potentially get new viewers," he says.
Kring also touched on numerous other aspects of Heroes‘ return — which comes Monday with a two-hour season premiere — in a conference call with reporters earlier this month. Some highlights:
New characters vs. old favorites
"This season we are not really introducing any new characters that have their own storylines. So we are concentrating very much on the core characters that we’ve had for, you know, two seasons now.
"We have a certain style of storytelling that really is a kind of pastiche of storytelling, where there are multiple characters and multiple stories going on at the same time. The difference in this volume, ‘Villains,’ is they are all feeding one big, giant story. So no, we’re not really planning [on to feature] anybody any more than anybody else, I don’t think.
"The audience may feel that way at times, but I think in the aggregate when they see it put together, certain episodes may lean a little more heavily on one character or another. But by the end I think it’ll kind of balance out."
What was lost to the strike
"Well, the virus story was really the casualty of the strike. … We re-jiggered literally the last couple minutes of that volume when we knew the strike was imminent and changed the ending so that that virus never broke out. [An alternate ending is on the season two DVD set.]
"The second volume of season two was going to be an outbreak story that would last eight episodes, and it was all avoided by Peter Petrelli [Milo Ventimiglia] catching this vial of the virus and so it did not break, and therefore did not get out into the community.
"Three episodes into that volume we would have found out what happened to Caitlin [Peter’s Irish girlfriend, played by Katie Carr], and as a result of the writers strike, that has been sort of a lost part of the mythology of the show that may never return."
"Some of those questions [raised in the first half of the season premiere] will linger a little bit, but I think — actually, you know, by the end of the third hour of the show you have kind of most of those [answers]. I mean, one of the goals of this season was because we … will have been off the air for nine months, we didn’t want to drag a lot of story behind us.
"We didn’t want to feel like you had to have watched two years of this show to catch up. So we wanted to answer things really quickly so that you could move forward on this volume and have a kind of clean path in front of you. So there really are not a lot of lingering questions that you carry with you from before.
"The goal for us from now on with these volumes is to try and answer, you know — literally 95 percent of the questions that are posed in the beginning of the volume will be answered by the end of the volume."
Killing characters off
"When you do a story that has any kind of stakes involved — and stakes of life and death — you absolutely have to have some casualties along the way, otherwise the audience begins to really become very suspicious of whether you ever really mean it when you raise these stakes.
"So, you know, fortunately or unfortunately, we exist in a world where we actually have to do that in order to maintain some authenticity. The good thing about Heroes is that nobody is ever really as dead as they seem to be on our show because of the ability to time travel, to go back in time because of the flashback nature of the show. … When we have regretted it, we have found ways to bring those characters back in these sort of new and interesting ways.
"Some of it was just, you know, planned or actors’ availability, that sort of thing. You know, someone like Malcolm McDowell, who, you know, we loved working with and found a way to figure out how to have that character return in an interesting way this season."