For his next act, Heroes creator Tim Kring wanted to nix the epic mythologies and instead make the TV show that he'd been kicking around in his head for years. His new drama, Touch, stars Kiefer Sutherland as a man desperate to communicate with his mute son Jake, an 11-year-old who he discovers can spot patterns in the world that predict the future and — more importantly to Kring — demonstrate humanity's interconnectedness.
So while Jake sounds suspiciously like one of Heroes' superpower-wielding characters, solving the mystery of his gift is not a priority for Kring. Rather than focusing on what's behind Jake's uncanny abilities, Touch is designed as an unapologetically feel-good anthology of life stories (i.e. lovers reunited, tragedies prevented, closure achieved.) Kring said after watching his last high-concept show burn bright and flare out in the span of four quick seasons, he had something more procedural in mind; each week in Touch, Martin (Sutherland), as guided by his son, will work to cause or prevent events from taking place.
"I believe the emerging story of our time is that we are more connected than we thought we were," Kring says. (The Heroes refrain? "Save the cheerleader, save the world.") "I believe with that idea, in cooperation with pulling together, we are going to make the world a better place for our kids. The stories in Touch comes more from that place than a Hollywood storytelling kind of place, to be honest. This is about putting out a positive message in the world."
TVGuide.com spoke to Kring about laying off complicated mythology, separating Kiefer from Jack Bauer and the lessons he learned from Heroes:
Why is doing a show with a positive message important to you right now?
Tim Kring: I'm not very interested in feel-bad stories. The older I get, the less interested I am in that [laughs]. That doesn't mean we won't have some bittersweet endings or darker notes, but overall the message of interconnectivity is a feel-good message. This is not a cynical show. I don't think it has a cynical bone in its body.
The pilot definitely has a Pay It Forward feel, and the chain of events spans the globe. Will the show have that same scope on a weekly basis?
Kring: Yes. What I wanted to do was tell small stories on a global scale, so there's a story about a man trying to find his phone because there's a special photograph in it, a story about a boy who needs to find an oven for his family. Even Martin's story very small and intimate. It takes places around the world, but the show is actually a series of very small human stories.
There will probably be a number of viewers interested primarily in what's behind Jake's ability to connect these cosmic dots — but you don't want to make that the series focus. Why not?
Kring: Because it's really hard to do. It's really, really hard to do that and hard because you can get overwhelmed by that. The show can get wrapped around mythology really easily, and then get dragged down by it. Touch was not set out to be a serialized story. Each week we create new characters in an almost short story-kind of way; you watch how their lives are connected, you feel like you get to know them, and then they're not on the show anymore. That being said, there is a mythology that will hang over the top of it. We do posit the idea that something is going on with this boy and that there's mystery surrounding it.
Have you already mapped out the answers?
Kring: We have ideas for the first season and we've talked about what we would do in the second. I don't know that we'll move that far in the first season. That's not where it's going.
When Kiefer's name came up as a possible star for the show, what were your initial thoughts?
Kring: "I'll believe it when I see it." It just seemed like an insanely optimistic idea that he would want to be in the show. Sure enough, when [Fox President of Entertainment] Kevin Reilly approached him and he had interest, I was kind of amazed.
Are you anxious at all that people so closely associate him with 24's Jack Bauer?
Kring: It was clear to both Kiefer and I that it was a very different character. Martin's very much of an everyman, as opposed to someone who can really take matters into his own hands... In the pilot, Martin gets punched in the stomach and he does basically what any of us would do — he crumbles in pain. Yes, there will obviously be a segment of the audience that will be disappointed that he's not killing people and, you know, being an action hero. But Kiefer is an enormously talented actor with a broad range, and it's good for him to stretch and let his audience know he can do other things.
And he does get to say "dammit!" in the pilot.
Kring: Honestly, it's also really the only word that you can say with standards and practices. I don't know how much Jack Bauer it is and how much standards and practices it is.
Heroes ended on a rough note in terms of the media coverage. You once even apologized to fans for the show's creative decline. How soon did you know you wanted to come back and work in television?
Kring: Heroes...that was the show that was on NBC, right? [Laughs] I'm still not ready to come back to TV! It's a very hard thing to do, to make television shows. I just had an idea for a script, I didn't know where it was going to end up. It could have been a movie. I was not actively looking to come back to TV. But as it turned out I did and it took me a while to get used to it again, but now we're having a lot of fun making these episodes.
What lessons do you think you learned from the Heroes experience?
Kring: You know, making Heroes was a blast... The good news is when you make a show you don't get to experience it in a way the rest of the world does. You're often a couple months ahead of it, ahead of the audience. There's always sort of a weird disconnect you have between what you think and the public's perception of it. You're living in kind of a bubble working such long hours, and you're a bit inured to whatever their issues are. Audiences will have their reaction, and you have to be true to what it is that you want to say. So, I guess my answer is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Check out the trailer for Touch, which premieres Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 9/8c on Fox.