'Fringe' Element: New Fox TV Series' Exec. Producer Talks
J.J. Abrams has a pretty impressive track record. After introducing viewers to the ultra hip spy world of Alias and the engaging enigmatic island of Lost, the creative mastermind and his company Bad Robot are looking to make it a hat trick with Fox’s promising new fall series, Fringe.
“The premise is that an event happens that brings FBI Agent Olivia Dunham, onto a case,” explains Executive Producer Jeff Pinkner. “In the course of it, her partner is actually injured and in an effort to try and save him, she seeks out a brilliant scientist who himself has been incarcerated in an institution for the last 17 years for various reasons. He is doing research in the fringe sciences, the very out there concepts, which of course are all very real like telekinesis and reanimation. The only way she is able to get him out of the asylum is with the help of a family member so she is forced to seek out his son Peter who has had no relationship with him over the last 20 years. He has no interest in helping but does so because he sees how emotionally invested Olivia is.
"The three of them are able to actually solve the case and during the course of it, it is revealed to her that there is actually a very specialized department of Homeland securities unit looking into a series of recent events that the government is referring to as The Pattern. These are unexplained events which seem to call into question what we understand as reality. With the help of the scientist, Walter Bishop, played by John Noble, and his son Peter, played by Joshua Jackson, the three of them set out to discover what the hell is going on.”
Although there were reshoots recently in New York and a completely finished pilot hasn’t been previewed yet, somehow the fledgling show is already being compared to other cult hits.
“Obviously, Altered States, Lost, and X-Files are spectacular achievements in their own rights but to say we are the next anything is setting up unfair expectations,” notes Pinkner. “I do think we intend to be every bit as cool and there are definitely elements of those in the architecture of Fringe. We would be honored to be considered in the same sentence as those shows but to say we are the next anything sets us up for failure. That would limit what we can do.”
However, this wouldn’t be an Abrams project without a complex group of individuals struggling to find their identity while tackling the bigger mystery at hand.
“Olivia is just an incredibly driven, incredibly brilliant agent with her own complicated past that we will peel back over time,” reveals Pinkner. “She is exposed to these events which seem to be taking place around the globe at more regular intervals than previously and sets out to solve these cases, if anyone is behind them, if they are simply freak natural occurrences, and at the same time, figure out her life.”
“Peter is sort of a jack of all trades. He is a brilliant person with a lot of his father’s innate intelligence but given his relationship with his Dad, he has turned his back on science and what he believes in. He has sort of lived by the seat of his pants for many years and in the process, has left a wake of disappointment with business partners and vengeful ex girlfriends.
"Peter is sort of a guy running from his own shadow, living by the seat of his pants, and cutting business deals as he globe trots. He is forced by honor and duty to join the team as well. He has one foot in and out and isn’t happy about being his father’s babysitter. Peter is understandably freaked out with the matters they are looking into but he finds a certain satisfaction in his own degree of expertise and being able to help. He has feelings for Olivia, a complicated relationship with his father, and starts to find his faith in the world as he moves along.”
“Walter is perhaps one of the most brilliant scientists known but in the name of science, and on behalf of the government back in the 70’s and the Vietnam/Cold War era, he has perhaps left a lot of harm in his wake. He has potentially damaged a lot of people and developed a lot of technologies that others may have exploited in the past. As a consequence, there either was or wasn’t a series of events that caused him to lose his mind and break down. He was found criminally guilty and put into an institution where they have done all kinds of advanced therapies to him, which have further damaged his mind. Despite all that, he’s the only person we can rely on to help us solve all these cases.”
“Walter Bishop had a former partner, William, back at Harvard when they were both working for a government corporation called Massive Dynamics. William has since gone on to become one of the richest men on the planet. Think Bill Gates. He runs a company which has its hands in every kind of consumer goods you can imagine from energy to television sets.”
“William’s chief operating officer is a woman named Nina Sharp who takes a maternal interest in Olivia and a concern for her looking into these cases. Nina has clearance to know about The Pattern so the corporation has vast interest in these events taking place around the world because at the very least, they could affect Massive Dynamics’ business. It’s also possible they are trying to harness these events to exploit them either for profit or some other reason.”
Thanks to notable parts in Dawson’s Creek, Urban Legends, Cursed, Bobby, and the recent horror flick Shutter, Joshua Jackson is easily the most recognizable face in Fringe’s ensemble cast.
“To be honest, Josh was one of the first people who read for us,” recalls Pinkner. “People also had Pacey in mind and Josh is not Pacey by any means. He is very much all grown up. Josh is an adult now and Pacey was an adolescent. Every other actor we auditioned, it was like ‘We need Joshua Jackson.’ Josh is perfect for the role and interestingly enough, he forced everyone to reconsider him because everyone had a little bit of a Pacey hangover. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but actually great. The character is just not Pacey. This character is a lot darker, a lot more soulful, and Josh came in and nailed the role and convinced everyone he is Peter. He is incredibly talented and pretty much emails me every couple of days going ‘When can we get started?’ The other fantastic thing about Joshua is he is wildly intelligent, as is his character, so he just brings a depth and gravity to everything he does.”
“As for Anna Torov, the process for Olivia had gone well past the 12th hour because nobody was willing to settle. Somehow, someone discovered Anna, an Australian actress who hadn’t really worked in New York before. She was put on tape in Australia and as soon as everybody saw her audition, it was instantly ‘There’s our girl! We found her! Moving on!’”
While the rest of the actors have had various degrees of success, none of them are truly household names yet.
“I love you had to IMDB the other actors!” smiles Pinkner. “That is actually a phenomenal thing. A lot of shows that introduce new characters to the American and international audiences immediately have a leg up. Frankly, I will watch Jimmy Smits in anything but I know it’s Jimmy Smits whereas when I see Josh Holloway on Lost, I have no preconceived notions about that actor. The vast majority of our audience won’t be familiar with them and will be approaching them as their characters and not as an actor playing a role.”
Fans know a trademark of both Lost and Alias have been their intense twists and turns and Fringe plans on mixing up the episode formats with stand alones while planting the seeds for an ongoing arc.
"Fringe, unlike Alias or Lost, will have cases of the week, cases that we well get involved with and may solve at the end of each episode,” reports Pinkner. “At the same time, there will be a much larger mythology running through the whole series. What I enjoy about that is we are literally exploring a world. The show is about things much larger than itself. What I enjoy about TV is spending time with characters that grow. What is great about these shows with mythologies is that at the same time that the characters are changing, we are exploring different aspects of a real fictional universe so our canvas is very vast. We as writers and creators can explore themes or ideas that interest us. We don’t feel limited because anything that interests us we can chase down. That is really fun for me.”
To steer Fringe along, a diverse team of writers including Without A Trace’s David Goodman, The Sopranos Jason Cahill, and Gossip Girl’s Felicia Henderson have been assembled. With such a talented collection of names under one roof, surely the much hyped series is a sure fire winner.
“I wish it were!” laughs Pinkner. “We would save a lot of money if someone told me what the formula was. Not only is there no formula to creating a successful series but none for creating a successful episode. If there was, it would make all our jobs a lot easier. The only formula we have found that works is to constantly hold ourselves to an incredibly high standard and to never settle for just good enough. We always set out to do out very best. Literally, every time is like catching lightening in a bottle and when anything we do is successful, we feel shockingly lucky.”