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James Kyson Lee, Jack Coleman, Ali Larter, Christine Rose, Adrian Pasdar, Milo Ventimiglia, Hayden Panettiere, Masi Oka, Greg Grunberg, Dania Ramirez, Zachary Quinto and Sendhil Ramamurthy.

A lot of "Heroes" fans have not been reluctant to express their displeasure with the way Season 2 turned out. But creator/executive producer Tim Kring would like them to know that they didn't see Season 2.

"The truth is what you were referring as Season 2 was not really our Season 2," Kring said in a teleconference with TV critics. "It turned out to be Season 2 because of the writers' strike.

"It was really sort of like watching a movie and having the projector break 40 minutes into it."

Because of the strike by the Writers Guild, "Heroes" produced only 11 episodes last season, reaching the end of one "volume" — the first of three that were planned for that season. And the end of the volume was changed because of the strike.

The plan for last season was to produce three separate volumes. The first was about the threat of a deadly virus being released; the second was to be about the outbreak of that virus.

"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," Kring said. "The second volume of Season 2 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 a virus and so it did not break."

Kring couldn't find much good to say about what happened to the show because of the strike, but a "silver lining" is that it allowed the producers and writers "some time away to reassess and think about what to do next."

And that resulted in "kind of reassessment of how to tell a story in a very adrenalized way," Kring said.

As was the case on Season 1, the plotting on Season 2 was a "slow build."

"In the first season, we took about eight or nine episodes before the characters even crossed paths with one another," Kring said. "And if you stuck with it, you were rewarded to see where that story went."

And if the "outbreak" had occurred, the slow build of the first 11 episodes would have paid off. But even assuming that all 25 episodes are produced this season, Kring and Co. aren't planning another slow start.

"I mean, clearly the audience is really not very interested in a slow build on this show. They want to hit the ground running," he said. "And so (the strike) gave us a little time to figure out just how to do that and in many ways how to tell a story without an Act 1 — to start, basically, in Act 2.

"And we think with Volume 3, 'Villains,' that we sort of figured that out — how to hit the ground running in a really quick way that has a tremendous amount of adrenaline."

"I think that the scripts this season are just more exciting and more action-packed," said Zachary Quinto, who plays the evil Sylar. "And more dynamic than ever. I mean, I think it just keeps getting better. And every time I open a script it's truly a thrill."

Kring is also promising that questions and mysteries won't drag on forever. For example, in the first half of Monday's two-hour premiere, a number of questions are raised — like how did characters we presumed were dead suddenly reappear. And, according to Kring, we'll have answers to "most" of those answers "by the end of the third hour" of the new season.

But, more than that, Kring is promising to pay off storylines at the end of each volume, not just at the end of each season.

Season 3 will be divided into the 13-episode Volume 4 ("Villains"), followed by a 12-episode Volume 5 (reportedly titled "Fugitives").

"It's something that the audience, I don't think, has really figured out because of the nature of the way we've aired. The first volume just happened to be one season long," he said. "This year they will hopefully really catch on that we air in volumes."

He said it's "very important" because it's a way to avoid becoming "impenetrable" to viewers who haven't been watching since the show debuted.

"We're now trying 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," Kring said.

At least part of the criticism the show endured — and the decline in ratings — was sort of the natural result of anything that quick becomes sort of a pop-culture sensation.

"That is always the nature of something that hits in a big way — in a very zeitgeist kind of way. It's very hard to be shiny and new all the time," Kring said. "And so, of course, that's something that always concerns us but there's not a whole lot we can do. We just make the story that we make.

DON'T LOOK FOR any major additions to the cast. Kring said that this season the show will be "concentrating on the core characters that we've had for two seasons now." And for the "Villains" volume, instead of having so many multiple storylines going on at the same time, "They are all feeding one big, giant story."

"I think the audience will be really surprised at how many kind of pairings up of people that will be new," Kring said. "Characters that have never really even crossed paths with one another will cross.... There are several of the actors on the show that have literally never been in scenes with one another."

And the upcoming volume will be loaded with family drama.

"It's all about family and at the core of this particular volume, we're exploring the nature of dysfunction among family," Kring said. "There are two families that are at the core of this show — the Bennett family and the Petrelli family. And both of them will be tested and tugged in ways that you haven't seen so far."

THE ABRUPT END to last season and the loss of the "Outbreak" volume means some plotlines were lost and will probably never be found.

For example, Kring said that in the third episode of the "Outbreak" volume "we would have found out what happened to Caitlin, 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."

If you're curious, some of the "fair amount of content" that had been shot for the second half of last season is on the Season 2 DVD so that "people can actually watch and see where we were planning to go with the next volume."

On Monday

• Heroes returns to NBC/Ch. 5 on Monday with a one-hour special at 7 p.m. that recaps what has transpired in the first 34 episodes. The two-hour season premiere follows at 8 p.m.

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