January 12, 2011

There are few people in Hollywood busier than J.J. Abrams, who constantly seems to be juggling a handful of projects in both film and television, whether as a producer, a writer or a director, or some combination of the three. Currently, he is an executive producer on the Fox drama Fringe, which moves to Friday nights on January 21st. He is also developing Alcatraz, Person of Interest, Odd Jobs and Pulp for various networks. And, he is getting ready to make the decision about whether or not to direct the sequel to the hugely successful feature film re-imagining of Star Trek.

While at the party to celebrate the Fox/FX portion of the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, J.J. Abrams talked about his thoughts on the Lost finale, how he feels about the move to Friday nights for Fringe, why he thinks Undercovers failed, and how excited he is to get started on the pilot for Alcatraz on January 19th. He also said that audiences should see a trailer for Super 8 in March, and that he hopes to have made his decision about whether to return to the director’s chair for Star Trek 2 by then. Check out what he had to say after the jump:

The big news for Trek fans is Abrams has not made any decision about directing the sequel as he hasn’t read the script:

“I guess the idea of not wanting to choose to direct a film, for which I’ve not read a script. It’s a tough decision to make without seeing any pages. That’s not to say that I don’t have all the faith in the world in the spectacular writers. Damon Lindelof, Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman are awesome. My hope is that they’ll write the script, it will be great and we can make a fun, exciting sequel to Star Trek.”

With the film set to start shooting this summer, if Abrams does decide to pass on directing, I’d imagine we’ll hear who would take the gig soon.  Here’s the full conversation.

J.J. Abrams imageQuestion: How did you feel about the end of Lost? Were you happy with it?

J.J. ABRAMS: Oh, my god, I thought those guys just did an incredible job. It was really beautifully done.

Did you have any input at all?

ABRAMS: No. I watched them do an amazing job without me, and I didn’t want to upset the balance. Seriously, they didn’t need my help. They did an amazing job.

How do you feel about the move to Friday nights for Fringe?

ABRAMS: Oh, I’m horrified beyond belief, but as a fan of the genre and the show, I’m hoping that fans will tune in. I certainly can promise that it will be worth their while. The episodes that are coming up are spectacular. I guess you can just be hopeful and say that, if the work is good enough, it will find the audience. I think they’re doing better work now, even in the second half of Season 3, than they’ve ever done on the series. I’m just crossing my fingers that fans of the show, show up.

Do you see any upside to the change in nights?

ABRAMS: Just in that I’ll start drinking more. No, I don’t see an upside because the audience on Friday nights is harder to find. But, that’s not to say that they aren’t there and that we might not be able to make it there. Certainly, I would be lying to you if I said I’m thrilled about the move. But, what I am thrilled about is that the network has been incredibly supportive and, despite its move to Friday, they’ve been nothing but encouraging of the show. It’s still on the air in its third season, and it’s not easy to do that. It’s not easy to get to Season 3 of anything. They’ve allowed the show to become truly great, I think. The question is, will audiences find a great show on Friday nights? I pray that they do.

j.j._abrams_imageWhat are your thoughts on what happened with Undercovers?

ABRAMS: I’ve got to say, I feel like it was unfortunate. Of course, I completely blame myself for the entire thing. The conceit of the show was to do a much more frivolous, fun show, but ultimately, I think it was just too frivolous and too simple, and we didn’t go deep enough. We were really desperately trying to stay away from mythology and complexity and intensity and too much serious, dark storytelling and, ultimately, that’s not necessarily what I do best. I think audiences felt that it was a little bit lacking. I see that and completely take responsibility for its failing.

Did it surprise you that the demographics for that show skewed so much older than expected?

ABRAMS: Yeah. All around, it unfortunately just didn’t work the way I wanted it to. I especially feel for the actors, who are incredibly talented and wonderful. The directors we got, the editors and the crew was awesome. The idea that I would somehow squander really talented people’s time and take them and us away from our families and other work we have to do, it was a real heartbreaker. Again, I feel completely responsible.

Are you worried that networks will now shy away from having two African American leads on another show because this one failed?

ABRAMS: I would desperately hope that no one, including network executives, would see the failure of Undercovers as a reflection of the race of the cast. It obviously had absolutely zero to do with that. It was completely my responsibility and not anyone else’s. I don’t think anyone is going to think that. Instead of that, I think they would say, “Series that have a premise that’s too light and too disposable and too frivolous won’t work.” Audiences want more. They want something that is more emotionally true and resonates a little more. I think the true failing of the show was that it didn’t go deep enough and it wasn’t about enough. Everyone, including Josh Reims, with whom I created the show, followed my lead. It was all my doing.

jj_abrams_image__3_Do you have anything else in development for network television right now?

ABRAMS: We do. We have a few projects. We have a show for Fox called Alcatraz, that starts shooting on the 19th, which I could not be more excited about. And, we have a show for CBS called Person of Interest, that Jonah Nolan wrote. We have Odd Jobs for NBC. And we have a new script called Pulp, that was written by Alison Schapker and Monica Breen. That’s a spectacular script. We’re about to go out with that.

What is the status of Odd Jobs, with Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson? Where is that, in the process?

ABRAMS: A script is being written right now. The intent would be to make the pilot for this season.

Is Alcatraz actually about Alcatraz?

ABRAMS: Alcatraz does involve Alcatraz.

Will it be shot in the actual prison?

ABRAMS: Some will be, yes. There are sets being built, but there will be some of the pilot shot in San Francisco at Alcatraz.

What is the series about?

ABRAMS: I don’t want to give anything away because no one wants to hear that, but I will say that it’s a beautifully written and surprisingly emotional script, although not surprising when you know that Liz Sarnoff wrote it. She’s amazing. The show is about an incredibly odd and mysterious turn and secret about the prison of Alcatraz, and a modern-day mystery that involves something very odd that happened there 50 years ago.

Who have you cast?

ABRAMS: The cast is unbelievable. It’s Sam Neill, Sarah Jones, Jorge Garcia from Lost – who was the first person we cast and is just the greatest with an amazing role – and Johnny Coyne, who’s an amazing English actor. We have a spectacular cast. There are a number of other actors and it is wonderful. I’m really excited about the show.

When will audiences get to see a trailer for Super 8?

ABRAMS: Probably sometime in March, I think.

Do you have a date by which you have to decide whether you’re going to direct Star Trek 2?

ABRAMS: That’s a good question. I probably do. I don’t know. There’s a script that should be coming in, hopefully by the time there’s a trailer for Super 8, and then we’ll know.

What’s the biggest proponent of that decision for you?

ABRAMS: I guess the idea of not wanting to choose to direct a film, for which I’ve not read a script. It’s a tough decision to make without seeing any pages. That’s not to say that I don’t have all the faith in the world in the spectacular writers. Damon Lindelof, Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman are awesome. My hope is that they’ll write the script, it will be great and we can make a fun, exciting sequel to Star Trek.