[04/23/09 - 07:00 PM]
Live at the Paley Festival: FOX's "Fringe"
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: As always, due to the Paley Festival's policy of not allowing electronic devices during the panels, I won't be blogging the event "live." Plus, I don't want to be the douche with a laptop clicking away when everyone's trying to enjoy the show. In any case, look for my handwritten blog - how 20th century - to be transcribed and appear around 11:00 PM PT each night. And if I'm feeling adventurous, you might get a few tweets from the after parties.]

6:55 PM - An early start! Tonight's legacy clip comes from - you guessed it - a 1998 episode of "Dawson's Creek" featuring Joshua Jackson in which Pacey is talking about how much he loved "The Mighty Ducks." It has multiple levels of meta going on - we're at a panel devoted to a show whose co-star's previous show is being spotlighted which features said co-star spotlighting a movie he was in. I think my head just exploded.

7:03 PM - Paleyfest overlord Craig Hitchcock welcomes us to the penultimate evening of this year's festival. He in turn brings out Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker. He makes jokes about The Observer and Cortexiphan within the first 10 seconds he takes the stage. It should be a good night.

7:07 PM - Ken then intros executive producer Jeff Pinkner, who's brought the episode "The Transformation." He admits the "Fringe" gang really just wanted to see this episode - featuring lots of fancy special effects - on the big screen. And so we shall.

7:58 PM - Ken returns to welcome tonight's guests: JJ Abrams! Roberto Orci! Alex Kurtzman! Jeff Pinkner! Bryan Burk! Anna Torv! Joshua Jackson! John Noble!

8:02 PM - JJ, Bob and Alex recount the show's origins.

8:05 PM - And how did the guys settle on the name Massive Dynamic? "We literally had lists of names and we were emailing them back and forth," JJ explains. "We had a huge list of names and that was the one we came up with. And actually we were going to do Massive Dynamics but it was taken, the dot.com, MassiveDynamics.com was taken."

8:09 PM - Rob on balancing the show's procedural and serialized elements: "It was a challenge we set for ourselves. We literally were like, 'Can we do that?' I think we tend to all gravity towards more serialized stuff. The idea of learning from procedural shows and applying those lessons to, mixing it with something more mythological was a challenge for us."

8:10 PM - Jeff adds: "It's interesting because it's a 'genre' show there's a fear that the audience is not - I think intelligent enough is unfair - but if we were doing 'ER'... you tune in and you figure out fairly quickly that, oh, so-and-so is dating her and so-and-so just lost their child and yet there's a body that comes into the hospital so you can sort of get engaged in the story of the week. You can figure out fairly quickly the relationships and there's a comfort because, oh, I know what a hospital show is...

8:11 PM - ...But when you're telling a show that's more genre specific, there's a fear it's going to be harder to understand. And our challenge is that the truth is it's not that hard to understand. It's just character relationships. We tend to make them trackable so you can come in and figure out pretty quickly, oh, so-and-so does this and they feel this way about whoever else and Walter's crazy. And yet here's the story, here's the case and some cases have started in an earlier episode and they're paying off now. Come on in the tent, enjoy the show."

8:13 PM - Anna on her first reading of the pilot script: "The story was so clear and so concise and I found it easy to sort of track Olivia's journey through it - the Olivia that you meet at the beginning of that particular episode and the Olivia that you meet at the end are two kind of very different people." This eventually prompts JJ to shout: "People she's Australian! How cool is that?!" She quips back, "I'm not the only one."

8:15 PM - "I don't think Peter is a moral character himself," Joshua notes about his character. "But I think because he's amoral, he's able to stand back and point out the fact that people are acting poorly... He doesn't really engage on a moral level. I don't think he's particularly concerned about the immorality of the bad behavior of Walter, the ethical transgressions that he makes. But he certainly is the one who points out that we're living in this absurdist world." He goes on to add, "He's a release valve a lot of the time. The situations build up and build up and build up and he's the guy who puts the pin in it so that we as an audience can also take a deep breath and go, 'Whew! Okay, act two!" Burky subsequently points to Joshua and states: "Canadian."

8:16 PM - JJ reveals that he, Bob and Alex were recording the pilot commentary for the DVD today.

8:18 PM - Joshua on the difference between life on "Dawson's Creek" and life on "Fringe": "I was just barely on the cusp of the internet age during the 'Felicity'/'Dawson's Creek' era. And people have a chance to really disseminate ideas amongst themselves now. So if you give them permission - look, these people believe in this world, go with us for the ride - anything that needs to be parsed in any story is instantly talked about between the fan base. And I actually think that's the most amazing part about being on a TV show now that finds an audience as opposed to a TV show before. People can really have a chance to really, really dive into it." Jeff quips, "Meaning, they call us on our own bullshit?"

8:19 PM - Joshua fires back: "I would rather be on a show that aims for the best ever and comes in second best ever than aims for mediocrity and achieves its goal."

8:20 PM - "They sent me this scene [in which Walter and Olivia first meet at the asylum] to read," John notes about his audition. "And I thought, 'My goodness... he's deliciously insane.'" Anna adds her favorite thing about Walter is "every now and then this character in this play will just say... poo."

8:24 PM - Ken notes that in Germany, where his daughter lives, "Fringe" translates to "Fringe: Worst Cases of the FBI." Apparently the show was initially advertised with a fake news broadcast featuring cases from the show. This subsequently upset many viewers. "By the way," Jeff notes. "Scaring Germans - we win."

8:25 PM - Bob cites the Unabomber, who was a Harvard alum, as the inspiration behind the ZFT manifesto. "It was very much off of doing the homework about the kind of things that were going on at Harvard where the character of Walter Bishop studied in the '60s and '70s. From that we got this idea that what if Walter had written the Unabomber's manifesto, this genuinely intellectual attempt to grapple with technology, which is one of the themes of the show."

8:28 PM - Jeff says that John regularly feeds them with ideas about his character. "It was an extraordinary time," John says about the '60s. "And it was a time of amazing potential where you believed that the world could be changed. They believed that they could shift ideas that were entrenched in society and impact them in a massive way. That's why it was so vivid then and that's why we got back to it and I'm sure that's why audiences are relating for example to Walter. The older folks say, 'Yes, I remember!' Because he hasn't grown old, he's stayed young in his mind." Ken wonders if Walter is a hippie who's mind was blown by science as well as drugs. "Walter or John?" Burky quips.

8:31 PM - Ken brings up the double-edged sword of following "American Idol." Jeff asks when Ken thinks of "Idol." "I think it's the spawn of the devil," Ken replies. "I am rooting for Adam Lambert though." Everyone goes on to sing the praises of FOX for giving the show not only "Idol" but "House" as a lead-in during the first half of the season.

8:32 PM - The subject turns to Gene the Cow. It turns out the cow in the pilot (shot in Toronto) is not the cow in the series (shot in New York). And they'll have to switch again should they relocate to Vancouver next season as cows cannot cross the border.

8:35 PM - JJ on the casting of Blair Brown: "She's someone who I've been a fan of since 'Altered States' and 'The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd' She did a bunch of other great stuff, a terrific actress. And when we did 'Alias,' Victor Garber, who's friends with her, would talk about her in this glowing way. I always... felt like I knew her just because of Victor." He goes on to note that Nina Sharp will play an important part in the closing episodes of the season.

8:37 PM - Ken asks about the casting of Leonard Nimoy as William Bell. Some interesting facts (skip ahead if you don't want to know): he only has scenes with Anna (Walter will have to wait for season two unfortunately); and he's signed on for more than one episode (although JJ wouldn't be specific about how many). "He [plays William] in a way that's kind of unexpected," Jeff reveals. "And you go, 'Oh my God, I now see why these two men were simpatico, were like minded, even though one went into an insane asylum and one went on to be one of the richest men in America.' Maybe there's something to that." JJ asks the $100,000 question to Anna though: "Did you do this [makes the "live long and prosper sign" with his hand]?" Anna sheepishly replies, "I kind of wanted to!"

8:41 PM - Ken opens the floor to Q&A.

8:42 PM - A somewhat angry sounding fan asks if there's any meaning to the act out cards. "The order of the symbols in the beginning of the show does mean something," Bob notes. "And it basically translates to, 'Drink your Ovaltine.'" Jeff adds that in all seriousness they do. "The title cards are coded. There is a secret code that we have devised." Bob fires back, "It's not very secret now."

8:44 PM - The panel is mesmerized by the next questioner's very broadcasty-sounding voice.

8:45 PM - Jeff cites the movie "What the Bleep?!" as a great look at fringe science in today's world.

8:47 PM - Someone asks about Peter calling Olivia's sister. Jeff notes, "These guys got that script and I got an e-mail from Josh and he said, 'I don't understand - why am I calling her if I'm not sleeping with her?'" Joshua does not deny this. "Peter is not much of a catch," he explains. "He's a 30-year-old man who lives in a one bedroom hotel room with his father."

8:50 PM - A fan asks if there are any more secrets about Walter, like is a cross dresser? This absolutely floors Joshua, making him laugh for a solid couple of minutes, and makes John giggle like a school girl.

8:53 PM - "I was at that game," Joshua says about The Observer's appearance at the Giants/Eagles game. "I couldn't get a ticket and I'm watching the Jumbotron and the God damn Observer is there!" Jeff later adds that FOX tried to get The Observer into Obama's inauguration.

8:55 PM - JJ on how far they've planned ahead: "I think whenever you do a show, especially something like 'Fringe' that... obviously hints at things to come and if you're lucky you get to actually get there and deal with it. You have an idea, you have a sense of where you want to go, where you want it to be but the beauty and the fun and the terror of television is that ongoing nature of it. And it's sort of a leap of faith. You have to just assume that that idea you have will be realized. And if it's not that idea, it's always the best idea at the time, which means based on what you're seeing in the show, performances, characters that come in that you think, well, he or she is only going to be there for one episode and all of a sudden that character just pops, like, oh my God! You have to listen to that show...

8:56 PM - ...listen to those episodes and the actors, regular actors, guest actors. Things that happen, you know, Michael Emerson on 'Lost' was not hired to become Ben as a regular, as critical as he is. He was someone who was hired for that episode. And Damon and Carlton, they saw what he was and they realized the power that character had on the show... And so I feel like the ideas that we have, you're always doing the best you can with the ideas, believing that that idea will become one's forum. It's like, I always say it's like driving through fog. You vaguely see where you're going and that's your destination. But the closer you get, the more you realize, 'I can't go where I thought I'd go, I want to go this way.' And you have to find a better destination. So it's always this sort of evolving, cool, organic process that honestly as much as anyone says, 'I know every single thing that happens' - that's bullshit. It's always an unpredictable experience. And you just try to trust yourself and the process of your heart."

8:57 PM - And that's it boys and girls. I'll be at NBC Universal's Summer Press Day tomorrow so this marks my 2009 Paleyfest swan song. I hope you've all enjoyed the fun and I'll see you here again next year.

  [april 2009]  


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