Last night I attended the Paley Festival’s salute to “Fringe”. I’ve never actually been to the Paley Festival before, usually looking up whatever interviews I was interested in on YouTube or the like, but actually being in the audience and watching the backbone of a television show interact was a blast.
It was the 13th night of the Festival, a fitting number considering the mysterious and strange universe that “Fringe” sets itself in. It was held at the Archlight Dome in Hollywood, which is great considering the turn out for the panel was very good. They started off showing us an episode of the show, The Transformation (special note, this is episode 13, which also amuses me.) After the episode had finished the panelists came out.
Attending this year was J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Jeff Pinkner, Bryan Burk, Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, and John Noble. Each were charming and amusing to watch, playing off each other through the whole interview. J.J himself was extremely amusing, though the stars of the night seemed to be Joshua and John, who startlingly seem to act like Peter and Walter Bishop to a degree. Only, you know, less cynical and broody and a lot less insane.
The interview was about an hour long so I’ll try and highlight the most interesting comments:
- JJ, Roberto and Alex came up with the show during a meeting in which they were specifically trying to think up and great new idea, apparently going between mad scientist and heart to heart
- They came up with Massive Dynamic after compiling a long list of similar names, trying to come up with the company name, they eventually settled on Massive Dynamics, but a few days before the pilot shot that got registered, so they went with Massive Dynamic, the cast apparently had a hard time with the name at first.
- The write the show as a sort of mix of a procedural show with a lot of mythology mixed in. They talked a lot on the ability of the audience to not only understand the nuances of the show, but also the shows ability to not alienate the audience. Unlike LOST, where if you aren’t watching from the beginning god help you, if you turn in at episode 4 of FRINGE you have the capability of picking up what you need to know to enjoy the program. It was asked if the network feared that audiences wouldn’t get it, and the creators emphasized that just because a show is genre specific doesn’t make it inherently hard to understand. Joshua made quiet a smart comment on the use of the internet and haw anything anyone didn’t understand can be easily explained or theorized to them on the internet, which is a great advantage of a show like this in this media environment.
- Anna talked a little about her character and reactions to the first script: her character in the first episode was much easier to grasp because she was a normal person flung into a bizarre and scary situation. As she has grown her character has grown more complex. She was presented opposite to how most working female characters in television are, romantic and relaxed first, then cold and efficient. She likes the humanizing aspects to her character; specifically she talked about Olivia’s smile and relaxed composure when seeing her sister and niece after a hard day.
- Joshua was asked about the interviewer’s view that Peter was the conscience of the show. He replied that he didn’t view Peter as a particularly moral character, but that because he’s amoral, he’s able to step back and point out the truth of the immoral concepts they are presenting. Peter is the release valve of the show, a cipher for the audience, so they can take a breath.
- John apparently didn’t really read the script (or at least didn’t read much of it) until the first day of shooting. Also, he viewed the character as a dream role for him, and is excited to play Walter, though he was also originally considered too young for the part.
- I’m not sure which of the creators actually said this but in response to Peter’s role as the audience’s WTF advocate and the show’s overall crazy plots, they noted that “when you comment on the absurdity, you can have it.”
- They discussed two rather strange things in regards to Germany and this show: 1) in Germany the official title of the show is something that translates vaguely into “Worst Cases of the FBI,” and 2) as a promotion for the show a fake newscast was made talking about the man who grew from a baby into a man in a day. The next day the station was overrun with messaged by worried and scared people who had seen the newscast.
- The idea behind the ZFT, or Zerstorung durch Fortschritte der Technologie, or Destruction by Advancement of Technology, was from the Unabomber’s manifesto against technology.
- The cow in the lab’s original function was to have a viable living test subject that we care for but don’t at the same time. Mostly it was there as the result of a brain term of weird things they can put in Walter’s lab. Many jokes have been passed around from how the cow is actually an undercover agent to it being the real narrator of the show. There have also been multiple cows, and it seems another one will have to be found as production moves to Toronto.
- Blaire Brown was the first person approached for the role of Nina Sharp.
- On the topic of Nimoy’s roles as William Bell, J.J. confirms that he hasn’t just signed on for one episode. He also mentioned that it was an honor to work with him on Star Trek and that he never thought he would work with him again. When they were thinking of actors to consider for the role Burke suggested Nimoy and J.J. thought it couldn’t be more perfect. Nimoy loved the idea and also brought his own ideas for the character, ideas that explain how he and Walter could have worked together in the past. John hadn’t met him before filming but was so happy to have such a big icon of the science fiction genre on the show. Anna and John said very little on their scenes with him, but J.J. jokingly asked Anna if she did the Vulcan sign and she admitted that she had wanted to.
Then it was the audience’s turn, I’ll just summarize what they got asked and their answers
- The act out cards (the frog and the apple and the six fingered handprint) are significant to the overall them of the show, but the order they come in is relevant for reasons they kept secret.
- In regards to working out the mythology of the show: their rule is “you can imagine anything you want, but you have to ground it in science.” They are mostly looking for ideas and scientific concepts just on the cusp of truth.
- In regards to Walter’s involvement to all the cases: In the beginning to get the show going many of the cases were directly connected to Walter, later they have had less of this, but kept Walter relevant due to his scientific expertise and ability to think of strange concepts. Even when not connected to the case, he’s useful for figuring out what is going on.
- Don’t be too hopeful for Olivia and Peter to hook up any time soon, though Joshua thinks Peter might have hooked up with Rachel (Olivia’s sister) and it just hasn’t come out.
- There was a weird question to John about Walter’s obsession with food and him maybe being a cross dresser, and I’m only noting this because it distressed and confused Joshua so much that he literally begged John not to answer the question. It’s weird how life imitates art sometimes.
- J.J. and the other writers were asked how far ahead the writing is to what they are working on now, i.e. how far ahead to they have plots mapped out. J.J. said that they have ideas in place, but it’s more of a concept on where they want t go then an actual map of things to come. He spoke of the way writing goes and how sometimes you find a plot point you didn’t expect r a character suddenly just clicks that then changes the whole idea of what you were doing. He used the example of Ben in LOST, and how before he was cast the character was not as important as he eventually has turned out to be. Writing a television show is ever changing and evolving the plot as they go, they have a sense of things they want to happen, but routes and directions change. He described it as driving in a fog.
- They also talked briefly on how the Observer has been spotted at certain events. He was on American Idol, which precedes FRNGE on Tuesday night, and also at a Giants game. Joshua talked about how he was actually at that game, in the nosebleed section which were the only seats he could get, and how he looked up at the teleprompter and saw the Observer.
The creators also said that there will be more in the way of internet extras and possibly more Observer sightings. So perhaps we should all keep our eyes open for The Pattern, as Forge puts it.