Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Press Tour: JJ Abrams on 'Fringe' embracing serialization

JJ Abrams is a busy, busy man. He has three pilots in development for next season, including "Alcatraz" at FOX, plus another one currently being shopped, is directing the movie "Super 8," and doing early work on the "Star Trek" sequel.

He's so busy that he long ago passed on day-to-day responsibilities for running "Fringe," but he still feels such passion for the show that he keeps coming to FOX's press tour events to preach the gospel and keep the show out in the public. (In comparison, he didn't come to any ABC press tour events after the first one for "Lost.") He knows he'll gather a crowd, and that in among the questions about "Star Trek" and all his other projects, he'll be able to sing the praises of the little sci-fi series that could. So he came to FOX's party at this tour relatively early, and stayed well past closing time, surrounded at all times by a throng of reporters.

Earlier in the day, FOX president Kevin Reilly had said that the show's move to Fridays (which happens next week) wasn't automatically a bad thing - "I beg you to not write the eulogy prematurely" - and that if the bulk of the show's Thursday audience followed it to Friday, the show could run "for years."

Reilly had also noted that the show's appeal had become more insular as the writers began focusing more on serialized stories, but that he and his fellow executives had accepted A)that the show's audience was going to be the show's audience, and B)the show was much better this way.

So when I got into one of the scrums with J.J., I asked him about how and why the writers accepted that this is what the show should be like. A quick transcript after the jump...

When you first paneled the show, 17 or 18 TCAs ago, you said this was going to be the standalone, accessible J.J. Abrams show. And by now, you've clearly done a 180 from that, and it's very heavily arc'ed. Even the Monster of the Week shows this season have been about Fauxlivia in some way. When did you guys realize the show worked better this way?

The thing I feel like I'm constantly wrestling with and learning in TV is that balance: doing a show that has relatable, you can just come in and watch a standalone episode, and the thing that, at its core, I live for, which is ongoing, long-term story arcs. You can call them mythology, you can call them story, whatever. But it's very difficult in an hour-long show that doesn't just have a crime, to do shows that don't dig deep into why characters are there, where they really come from, what their demons are, how they're going to excise them. Falling in love, falling out of love. All this stuff is inherent in what makes a story interesting.

I will say that for "Fringe," over time, we - and when I say "we," I mean the writers of "Fringe," Jeff (Pinkner) and Joel (Wyman), those guys - realize that if we don't embrace the truth of what the show is - which is that it is about a woman who was experimented on when she was a kid, it is about a man who might not have come from here, it is about a father who is holding incredible secrets, including those that come from the other place, and these are things we talked about when the show was starting, to not embrace that means we will fail on other people's terms. So if we're going to fail, let's go down having done the most badass, weirdest, interesting, sophisticated version of a series we can possibly do.

One of the things Kevin said today was that at the executive level, they've embraced the fact that the show's audience is its audience, and it's probably not going to be as broad and accessible as they'd hoped. But they're fine with it so long as the audience stays roughly the amount it is now. Does that maybe give you the freedom to go even a little bit deeper into that?
It absolutely would if we weren't moving to Fridays. I am grateful beyond belief, and I have loved being at FOX. I have loved the experience, so much so that we're doing "Alcatraz" for FOX. I'm thrilled. Having said that, I do not want "Alcatraz" to get a slot because "Fringe" has left one for it. My goal is that they can co-exist happily, and they are two very different series, but "Fringe" deserves to live beyond season 3. The work that everyone there is doing proves that out.


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