Executive Producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman Talk FRINGE Season 4 and Beyond

     February 25, 2012


With only eight episodes left in Season 4, and the fate of the drama series still undetermined, Fringe is answering questions and pulling out all the stops, so as not to leave fans disappointed. Life-threatening events will continue to raise the stakes, and both the characters and the audience will learn more about the uber-plot of this season’s big bad guy.

During this recent interview, executive producers/writers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman talked about keeping all of the universes and timelines straight, how the latest episode (“The End of All Things”) will effect things to come, to remember that nothing is as it seems, that they haven’t written the season finale yet, the importance of the fan support to the success of the show, the state of sci-fi on TV today, and the chances of a Season 5. Check out what they had to say after the jump:

j-h-wyman-jeff-pinkner-imageQuestion: Now that you have at least four universes going on, at any one time, is it confusing? Do you film them separately? How does that work for you guys and the actors who are trying to keep everything straight?

J.H. WYMAN: The characters and actors are so in tune with what they’re doing that the minute they get an opportunity to play in one universe or the other, or one time or the other, they jump at it. It’s a huge deal for them. We don’t really have to talk to them much. They’re so great. They know exactly where they are, what their characters are doing, where they’re coming from, and what version of the characters they’re playing, which is a testament to their talent and ability. But, for us, no, we don’t get confused. We also don’t shoot them separately. We shoot them as they come up and as we write them. It’s like, “Hey, okay, we’re in this universe, this week.” It seems to be very clear to us, but I’m sure it’s not clear to everybody else.

JOEL PINKNER: What’s actually amazing is that, after a couple of years of living with these characters and writing these characters and talking about these characters, as we sit in the writers room and break episodes, it strikes you, every once in awhile, that you’re talking about a character that’s played by the same actor, who you’ve been talking about forever. We talk about a character dying, so you get emotional, and then you realize, “Oh, but wait, that actor is still on the show.”

How important is social networking to the success of the show?

PINKNER: I think we all operate now in a world that is so different than it was, even two or three years ago. The fans have access to the show and the creators, even if it’s not direct. I don’t know any television creators that don’t follow the message boards. The feedback is so immediate, to see what is working and what isn’t, and what’s working better than you anticipated. Then, there’s such a temptation to just constantly write things that are going to make the fans happy. Sometimes it takes a little bit of unhappiness to make those happy pay-offs work better. That’s something that is fascinating to us and I think has really changed the way that stories are told.

WYMAN: You get an immediate reaction. Twitter is important for us because we have incredible fans that are always fighting for us and trying to spread the word, and who are so devoted.  For us, that’s why we do it. So, to hear them and see the responses, instantaneously, it’s really amazing because you get to see what’s working and what’s not. I feel really close to the fans because we have dialogues with them on Twitter, and I think they feel closer to us, which wasn’t possible, several years ago. I think our fans are really connected to the show in a deep way, not just because they’re fans, but because we interact with them.

What have the conversations been lately with Fox, and what are you guys hearing for next season?

WYMAN: Obviously, that’s a big question. We get that every year. The God-honest truth is that Jeff and I just do what we do. You have no control. We didn’t have control last year, or the year before either, or the year before that. We can only do what we do, which is to make the show that we love, continue to follow the path for the stories that we want to tell, tell great and compelling stories, week-to-week, that interest our fans, and really hope for the best. I think that any show that doesn’t have huge ratings, that’s what you’re always up against. Meanwhile, conversations are ongoing. Everything is running the way that things usually run, in these types of situations. I guess we’ll find out, like everybody else. But, we don’t fret about it because, really, it’s out of our control. We can only step back and do our work, and therein lies the serenity. We’re hoping for the best and just doing what we love.

PINKNER: One of my favorite stories, when I was a kid, was The Little Engine That Could, and I constantly think we’re the little engine that could. We’re always struggling and hoping. We just keep making the shows that we love, and the good news is that we can never rest on our laurels, knowing that we’re going to be on forever. We’re constantly challenged to write the very best story that we can, week in and week out, hoping that that will allow us to keep telling more of them.

WYMAN: It’s a strange thing. It’s a sci-fi show on network television, and everybody knows that it’s an amazing feat that we’ve been on for so many years. The fans, the press and everyone has been so incredibly kind and so incredibly supportive that we feel like it’s a success, in any way, shape or form. It’s an expensive canvas. Everybody knows it. To do what we do, every week, costs a lot of money, and you have to have a return on it. That’s show business, and you’ve got to do it. We just hope that the dollars and cents can make sense and we can continue doing it. But, if this is the last season, speaking for myself, I would obviously feel incredibly sad because I know how much of the story that we have left to tell, and that we would love to tell, but in the same breath, I feel that I could take care of the fans. The most important thing to us is feeling like we have an ending that would leave people feeling like, “Wow, I feel sad, but satiated. I feel like that was definitely worth my four years of investment. I really love these characters and I can see where it would have gone, but I feel good.” All we’re concerned about is making sure that the fans don’t feel like, “Wait, what? What happened? I’ve invested four years of my life and I don’t get any kind of resolution that makes sense?” That’s not what’s going on and, to be 100% frank, our partners at Fox would never want to consciously allow that to happen.  Everybody knows that Jeff and I are very prepared. We’re ready for anything. Hopefully, we go on, but it’s out of our control.

Fringe-Joshua JacksonWith shows like Fringe, Alcatraz and Terra Nova all having a tough time in the ratings, how do you see the state of sci-fi on TV today, and how can it survive, in the future?

WYMAN: Jeff always says, “In the cinema, everybody goes to sci-fi. Those are the biggest movies. But, in television, nobody wants to touch it with a barge pole.” It’s strange. I think it’s because maybe there’s a legacy of television shows that depicted sci-fi in a certain way that turns off a lot of viewers, so maybe there’s a negative connotation. What was so great about Lost was that it came to the front door as a drama that was straight-up and really gave you the sci-fi underneath it all. It backed into sci-fi show, at least in my opinion. As soon as they got hooked, they were like, “Okay, I’m there.” But, the minute you show that it’s about strange science and things out of control, it takes an investment. I actually love the genre because it allows you to tell such human stories. Once people start to realize the consistency of quality that is coming, they’ll start to open up their minds a little more and say, “Wow, this is great. I’m going to tune into this.” It’s not just for the geeks and the people that are into it. It’s actually really fascinating.  That’s my take on it.

There has been some talk about the character of Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo) returning. Is that going to happen?

PINKNER: We have been in talks with Kirk about coming back. Nobody ever really dies on Fringe, or so it would seem. But, there’s no, “Hey, tune in on such and such week to see him.” There’s nothing definitive yet.

Was the Observer intel something you’ve been wanting to reveal for awhile now?

WYMAN: Well, we always said that you’d find out about the Observers this season, and that we’re going to investigate them a lot more. So, we’re excited about it all because the Observers are a highlight. For us to constantly break what you think you know, and re-set and have viewers go, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming,” that’s why we get up in the morning. It’s to take people on the ride. We’re excited about what’s coming up, too.

This season, there have been some really great singular cases and stand-alone episodes, but “The End of All Things” was mythology heavy and really speaks to the larger arc this season. How will that effect what viewers see in the final stretch this season?

PINKNER: Well, it’s definitely a game-changer, in that our characters learn a lot more, and the audience is going to learn a lot more, about the uber-plot of our season bad guy, David Robert Jones (Jared Harris). For Peter (Joshua Jackson), Olivia (Anna Torv) and Walter (John Noble), it’s going to start to unfold in ways that, hopefully, will be both really satisfying and challenging to our characters. It’s the 14th episode out of 22, and it’s very much a hinge episode that’s going to launch us into the back half portion of the season.

Joel, you’re directing the first episode back from the winter break. Did you want to do that one particular episode, or is it just how you came up into the rotation?

WYMAN: First of all, directing was the most incredible experience. When you run a television show, directing is something that not many people actually get the time to do because you’re so consumed with everything that’s going on. You can’t just disappear. Fortunately, I have an amazing partner that allows us to do these different things, who will be directing an episode himself soon, I’m sure. But, it’s amazing. I love directing and I think that it allowed me to get closer to the actors and actually work with them on a level that I haven’t before, and really get down there with them. I would jump at the chance to do it, anytime I could. The episode, itself, was something that was not in the rotation. I was supposed to direct a couple of episodes last year, and time just didn’t permit. If I can’t go away, then I can’t go away, and somebody else has to step in. That’s what happened last year. This year, the same thing happened, at the beginning of the season. I was going to do one, but work just put an end to that, so I couldn’t do it. But then, an episode came up that we were thinking about writing and I really felt close to it. Somebody had fallen out, so I felt that it was the perfect time because everything was completely under control. It allowed me to go and do it, and it was an episode that’s really close to me. It’s about love and all the great things that we talk about on Fringe. For Jeff and I, it was a perfect version of what a Fringe show is because it has a great terrifying element to it, which is very fringy, and it has this incredible love story aspect that people are going to be really, really excited for, as far as the relationships in the show go. So, it was an honor to do it, and it was just incredible. It turned out really well. We love it. It was just an incredible experience.

Fringe-John-NobleJeff, is there a chance that you’ll be able to do an episode, before the end of this season?

PINKNER: It’s unlikely that I will do one this season, but I look forward to doing it next season. I can tell you that Joel did a spectacular job, and I have a lot to live up to.

Do you already know what the final episode for this season will be?

PINKNER: No, we have not written the finale, but we do know what it is. We’ve known the shape of our season before we even started this year.

WYMAN: Fortunately, at the end of every season, we close the chapter and start anew. That’s the language of the series now, so it can organically come to a conclusion that we love.

How soon is it going to become evident what David Robert Jones’ (Jared Harris) uber-plan is, specifically, and how Olivia fits into it?

WYMAN: We can’t say anything, but just remember that, on Fringe, nothing is as it seems. There’s always a little more to the story behind the story. He’s definitely a large part, going forward. A lot of things will come full circle.

jared-harris-fringe-imagePINKNER: We’re well aware of how intelligent our audience is. We’re well aware that Fringe is a show that you really need to lean forward into and pay attention to and think about. It’s not designed to be a show that you can watch while you’re folding laundry. So, we’re well aware of the questions that our audience is inevitably going to ask. We’re well aware of how carefully they watch the show and hold us to continuity. We’re certainly aware of the debates that are going to occur. Our audience holds us to an incredibly high standard of continuity and emotional authenticity. We don’t toy with that, but oftentimes we write stories, in order to spark debate. We’re very determined to always give the answer. We don’t want to leave a lot of things open to debate, at the end of the day.

What kind of role is Nina Sharp (Blair Brown) going to play, going forward?

WYMAN: It’s funny because, since season one, people have always said, “Nina is such a great character. We’ve got to give her something that’s cool.” She’s an incredible actress, who is so much more capable of the things that we’re capable of giving her to do on the show, just by the constraints of the amount of screen time for the characters. We’re always looking for something very special for her, and we just wanted it to be right. We didn’t want to just give her an episode that was the Nina-centric episode. We wanted to make sure that you actually could watch a tour de force, allow her to do the things she does so well, and have it be worthy of her ability. We feel like that’s where we are, right now. You’re going to see some stuff that you’ll be pretty blown away by.

Fringe airs on Friday nights on Fox, and returns with new episodes on March 23rd.