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Entertainment Weekly Visionaries: "Lost," "Chuck," "Pushing Daisies," and "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" Showrunners Speak

It was absolutely remarkable to see Chuck's Josh Schwartz, Lost's Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, Pushing Daisies' Bryan Fuller, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles' Josh Friedman together on one panel. I thought the stage might collapse under the weight of their collective genius.

The panel, part of Entertainment Weekly's Visionaries series, was moderated by the magazine's in-house Lost guru Jeff Jensen, who did an absolutely brilliant job of asking insightful, intelligent questions and keeping the action moving. I go to a lot of these industry panels and typically the moderators are loathsomely awful, so it was a refreshing change of pace to have Jensen take the reins on this discussion and steer it in the right direction.

This being a panel consisting of showrunners on some of my favorite series on the air today, I was glad to see that Jensen didn't let them off the hook with questions designed to help promote their respective series. Instead, he started out with a doozy, asking them about how the writers strike of last winter has helped (or hindered) them approach next season.

For Pushing Daisies' Bryan Fuller, he spent a period of time wondering when the series would return to the airwaves but was happy that ABC opted not to bring back Daisies until the fall. "They didn't want to throw us under the American Idol bus," said Fuller. But the network did believe enough in the series to relaunch it again this fall and is putting as much investment into Daisies as though it were a new series.

So what can we expect when Pushing Daisies returns this fall? For one thing, the action picks up ten months later with our beloved characters trying to keep some newly discovered secrets in check, but some of them (ahem, Olive) are beginning to "burst under the strain." And look for a new character in the form of a pig (named Pigby, no less) who will turn up at a nunnery. (Only on Pushing Daisies would this make sense.) But don't expect a "Previously On..." that when Daisies returns this fall; instead, the first three minutes of Season Two will work as a primer to get viewers up to date.

Fuller said that he is a "very sensitive soul" and couldn't do a series like CSI, which he described as "negative headspace." Instead, he wanted to cram a series full with as many things that make him happy, and "shoehorn" in everything from dogs to monkeys and pie. As for pie? "Cake is a gamble," said Fuller. "Pie is always moist." (I have to say that I agree with Fuller's theory.)

As for the why Fuller seems to have a preoccupation with death, he said that, growing up, he went to a lot of funerals and never felt as though death were a bad thing. "Death is just the punctuation of everything that has come before," offered Fuller. He wanted to do something bright and boldly colored and pitched the network a series with a "fairy tale aesthetic." The candy-colored palette of Pushing Daisies "really was a choice for tone."

Josh Schwartz, meanwhile, revealed that Chuck's sophomore season will begin with a shot of Chuck (Zachary Levi) dangling off of a building and will explain what sequence of events lead him to end up in that precarious position. And unlike Pushing Daisies, Josh Friedman said that Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles will start "two seconds" after the events of the season finale and will start right in the middle of that explosion.

As for Team Darlton, Cuse and Lindelof said that we can expect to finally see the backstories for those freighter folk, which was intended to be a part of the fabric of last season, turn up in Season Five. Those stories will be told "in a different way... maybe not better but definitely different."

Jeremy Bentham was always intended to be in that coffin at the end of Season Four. The Lost writers have a list of philosophers' names that they can use at any time on Lost and knew that they wanted to use it for the man in the coffin, plus it didn't hurt that Bentham was a contemporary of John Locke and had designed the Panopticon, a prison facility where the prisoners could be watched at all times without realizing it. If that's not the perfect metaphor for the island on Lost, I don't know what is...

They are definitely aware of the paradox that Claire didn't make it off the island with Aaron, as predicted by Desmond's vision, if Charlie died at the end of Season Three. "It is an assumption," said Lindelof, " that one idea usurped the other. We are aware of the paradox." Or as Cuse offered, "It is explanable... But you will see Claire, though maybe not for a bit."

What departed character do Cuse and Lindelof miss the most? "Mr. Eko." (Figures.) They explained that actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje wasn't happy living in Hawaii. (Schwartz joked that the character he missed most was "Mischa Barton." Ouch.)

Team Darlton went on later to say that "there is no paradox" on the show and "no alternate futures." They are "not postulating that future events can be changed." So there. And they aren't making things up as they go along or planning out every single detail. "Up until the end of Season Three, we were doing pretty much both," said Lindelof. "We have 34 hours left, Season Five and Season Six. If we didn't have an end plan, we would crash and burn."

Cuse likened the situation to taking a road trip to New York; they know where they are going but they are making unexpected pitstops and detours along the way as you can't map out every single turn on a journey ahead of time, even if you know where you want to end up. "We knew that hatch was going to blow up at the end of Season Two but the specifics were more organic," said Lindelof.

On the subject of additional content created for multiple platforms like web and mobile, Cuse said that the biggest change in the entertainment industry is that series are now treated like brands and networks always want to expand their brands. New Media offers opportunities to do things that they couldn't do in other media, like focus on ancillary characters or play around with the mythology of the series--like the connections between Alvar Hanso, the Dharma Initiative, and Charles Widmore--in way that they couldn't do on-screen but can via their alternate reality games (like Find815.com). Lindelof said that the networks often hope that these can help break through to the masses but the honest truth is that they're really for the "diehard fans" of the series.

Chuck will launch a series of webisodes this season based around the employees of the Buy More, which is allowing Schwartz to "extend the experience of the show" and give viewers additional content between weekly installments and the opportunity to "hang with characters" that always aren't the main focus of the series. Pushing Daisies' Fuller was investigating doing a series of webisodes around the aforementioned Pigby character but met with "resistence" from the studio due to contract issues with the writers and actors.

Given the recent launch of Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog, it was only natural that Jensen would ask the showrunners if they are fans of Whedon's experimental, self-financed project. Schwartz said that it "opens the door to a whole new way of storytelling." Lindelof says that while they were on the picket line during the strike, they all talked about projects they were going to do while they were off from work but Joss actually created something brilliant seven months later and brought it to the fans himself. "It's just amazing," said Lindelof.

As for what series other than their own that these guys are watching, the answers were surprising. "Lost," said Schwartz. Cuse joked that he loves Gossip Girl. Lindelof said he loves "Chuck and Terminator. And Dexter." Fuller admitted his favorite series was Project Runway.

Comments

Wow. If you threw Joss Whedon in there it would have been my ultimate fantasy. (TV fantasy, that is.) Sounds like a great panel and it's nice to hear that the moderator was good too. Wish I could have been there!

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