<EM>Heroes</EM> Heroes

Tonight at 9 pm/ET, the new NBC drama Heroes raises the question, "What if you woke up one day to realize that you possessed superpowers? Flight, mind reading, teleportation, indestructibility... what if one of these abilities was suddenly yours? Among the ensemble cast of would-be superbeings are Alias' Greg Grunberg, Ice Princess' Hayden Panettiere, Gilmore Girls' Milo Ventimiglia and newcomer Masi Oka as an actual Hiro, a Japanese workforce drone who in the commercials is all too happy to get a whiff of his destiny.

While on the surface it's easy to write off heroes as some sort of X-Men for the small screen, series creator Tim Kring (Crossing Jordan) says the idea's origin lies neither there nor in his brief stint on Misfits of Science, but elsewhere. "I was fascinated with this idea of a new paradigm in the large-ensemble, serialized show," he tells TVGuide.com. "I started to think about what would make for an interesting version of that. And I happened to see back-to-back on consecutive days two movies that sort of melded together in my mind The Incredibles and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

"I loved those movies," he continues, "and so I started to sort of blend them in my mind over the next few days, mixing the idea of people who had superpowers but are struggling with their everyday lives. That was the genesis of the idea."

Another distinction from Wolverine, Cyclops, et al, is that despite what you may think, Heroes will not rush to bring these disparate, suddenly endowed characters together as a crime-fighting cadre, clad in matching vinyl jumpsuits. "The idea of a team... that is not what is going to happen," says Kring. Instead, at least the early batch of episodes will tease assorted meetings/just-misses. "One of the things I was fascinated with was this idea of these characters starting to cross paths in interesting, coincidental and unexpected ways. Take Masi's character, who's an office worker in Tokyo, and Hayden's character, who's a cheerleader in West Texas. The idea of them ever crossing paths seems impossible, and yet that's the fun of watching the show, to see how these characters actually come into contact with each other."

Are the "heroes" who viewers meet over the first two episodes the only possessors of powers? And is there a master villain who'd rather their collective selves be suppressed? "Those questions are actually connected to one another," says Kring. "The show introduces the concept of a major villain in the second episode, a sort of linchpin for most of the first season, and we are bringing in other people with superpowers, and they are not necessarily heroes."

If it sounds like Heroes is ready to heap on the introductions and surprises, and not drag out the action and explanations, that's by design. Having learned a lesson from those who are entertained yet frustrated by similar supernatural-themed series "where people get frustrated that they have to go two, three and four episodes at a time where not much happened," Kring approached Heroes with a different mandate: "If you watch our show, something is actually going to happen each week. And so far, we've really been able to do that, which has been both exhilarating and rewarding to be a part of."

In fact, during Episode 2, you just may find yourself looking at the series' yes, the about-to-premiere series' big finale, the apocalyptic moment, set but five weeks into the show's future, which our collection of "differently enabled peoples," to fashion a PC term, presumably will be called upon to prevent.

"No, I don't have an ending," Kring says. He then allows, "I have a place where I think it could end, but that ending could be stretched if I need to."