Tim Kring, left

This season, "Heroes" is doing things a little bit differently.

There will not be a season-long build-up to a big finale, said creator/executive producer Tim Kring.

"One of the things that we found is that, by the end of the (first) year, we were dragging a tremendous amount of story behind us that had to be paid off in that final episode," Kring said in a conference call with TV critics. "Which made for an episode that the (audience) expectations are so high that it's hard to meet everybody's expectation."

Which is absolutely true. There was a good deal of carping from even the show's biggest fans because they were apparently expecting the first-season finale to be The Greatest Episode In the History of Television. So they were disappointed by a good episode of "Heroes."

As a result, the second season will feature "multiple volumes." Tonight's installment (the sixth of the second season) takes us past the midway point of the 11-episode volume titled "Generations."

And in Episode 11, "every question that is raised will be answered ... so it's one complete volume," Kring said.

Not that "Heroes" is going to come to a sudden halt at midseason. All those answers in Episode 11 "slingshots (and) cliffhangs us and takes us across the (holiday) break into another volume."

To date, Kring and his team have done a fantastic job of raising questions and then answering them. It's not as easy as it seems — all you have to do is look at shows like "The X-Files" and "Lost" to see how hard it can be to build a mystery and then pay if off before audiences desert a show because it drags things out too much.

There's a fine line between giving away too much too quickly and dragging things out too long — a line that "Heroes" has managed to navigate quite nicely.

"I think people say they want answers, but they really enjoy the idea of following the mystery and watching it twist and turn," Kring said. "We actually are not a show that tries to keep answers away from the audience. Our feeling is that no answer is so precious that we can't tell the audience what it is.

"That being said, there's a certain amount of fun with drawing things out enough that it keeps your interest. But our show changes and morphs all the time."

And that's what makes it so much fun to watch.

THE HUGE CAST of "Heroes" and all the storylines mean that viewers also have to get used to watching the show somewhat differently

"Part of what happens on any show is that you enter a relationship with your viewers where you teach them how to watch your show and they teach you what they seem to be responding to," Kring said. "And we, I think, are in this process right now of teaching the audience how to get used to the idea that not everybody is going to be in every single episode."

With all the characters and the all the storylines, "It can get a bit cluttered," Kring said. So popular characters like Hiro (Masi Oka) and Peter (Milo Ventimiglia), for example, were both absent from a recent episode.

"And you watched that episode ... and it's compelling and intriguing," Kring said. "And I don't think that you really miss seeing them for one episode because you know that their stories will pick right up where they left off last time."

Which is not to say that he intends to keep adding more characters without subtracting any old ones.

"On a show like this, you have to be able to fold people in and fold people out. So the audience should fully expect to see characters leaving in the near future," Kring said.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com