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"Fringe" Elements: JJ Abrams, Cast, and Crew Talk About the New FOX Drama

One of the most hotly anticipated new series this fall is FOX’s Fringe, from the very fertile minds of Lost co-creator JJ Abrams and Transformers & Star Trek writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.

Those lucky enough to attend the screening of the feature-length pilot on Wednesday night got a first-hand look at the jaw-dropping first episode of Fringe, which stars Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek), Aussie actress Anna Torv, and John Noble (Lord of the Rings), who gathered with producers Bryan Burk and Jeff Pinker to talk about all things Fringe. (You can read my advance review of the Fringe pilot from May here.)

Abrams admitted that there are “no rules” to the world of Fringe, comparing it to the series Smallville, which—unlike Fringe—was developed with some very specific rules in mind concerning its superheroic lead (“no flights, no tights”). Here the only rule is to expect the unexpected.

The idea behind corporate goliath Massive Dynamics, which plays a large role in the series’ plot, sprang from the idea that certain companies—like GE, which owns NBC and producing everything from microwave ovens to lightbulbs—seem to manufacture everything and own a vast umbrella of diverse companies. However, Abrams was quick to point out that Fringe isn’t about “a corporate conspiracy in the same way that you might expect from the pilot.” Orci, the series’ resident conspiracy theorist, added mysteriously: “Who is to say that Massive Dynamics is evil?”

One of the key roles in the series is that of Peter Bishop, played by former Dawson’s Creek star Joshua Jackson, who said that he was attracted to the series by the strength of the script and by the pilot’s director Alex Graves (Journeyman). “In all fairness, the role was originally called Pacey,” joked Abrams. “Josh is obviously a very smart guy and brings an incredible wit and skill… he’s a total pro.”

As for what Jackson learned most from his time on Dawson’s Creek, it’s something that he still does to this day. "Always bring a dictionary with you on set."

This wouldn’t be a J.J. Abrams production without a seriously strong writing staff. "We were looking for people who could bring different things to the show," said Pinkner about assembling the series’ diverse writing staff, which includes Darrin Morgan (The X-Files) as well as former writers on such far-flung series as Without a Trace, The Sopranos, and Gossip Girl… as well a brother of television auteur Joss Whedon, no less. “We’ve got the strongest writing staff in Hollywood,” continued Pinkner. “It’s up to us not to fuck it up.”

Abrams also said that the series will be an ongoing mix of standalone plots and more “mythology”-based episodes that won’t snag the casual viewer looking to get lost in a kick-ass plot. “If you watch every episode,” said Abrams, “you’ll see details but if you miss an episode, you won’t feel confounded.” The idea, he said is to create a series that is “inviting in as many people as possible” week after week.

Torv said that her character, Olivia Dunham, experiences both a “blessing and a curse” in her experiences in the series thus far. “Olivia ends up facing this whole world that she didn’t know existed,” said Torv, who added that she still had a lot to discover and explore about her character.

Jackson agreed. “Peter is a man in flux,” he said. “My character is still being discovered, there are hints [in the pilot] that there is a whole other world, other side, of this man we don’t know yet. The pilot by necessity reveals more about Walter [Bishop, played by John Noble] than any other character.”

Of his character, the quiet-possibly-mad scientist Walter Bishop, Noble said, ”He’s Peter’s father, he’s done awful things, been pumped full of drugs, gotten electric shocks on a daily basis. Does he remember these experiences? His journey is of discovering his own memories.”

Burke said that they are releasing a Fringe comic book that will tell stories about characters that are peripheral to the world seen in the linear, televised version of the series. “The whole [writing] team will be working on it,” said Burke. “We’ll tell the history of Walter and William Bell’s backstory through the comic.”

Speaking of ancillary material, Abrams said that there’s a whole slew of tie-in material out there already (with more planned for later) but that it would be silly to draw attention about how to find it as the whole point is to follow the clues. “We’ll be hiding things in the show,” said Abrams. “If you want to play, you can, you can find the ‘Nina,” referring to artist Al Hirschfeld’s trait of hiding his daughter Nina in his drawings. Abrams says that there will be clues in each week’s episode about the following installment and that the “glyphs” between scenes are important.

Just don’t look for clues to Fringe in Abrams’ other projects like Lost, Cloverfield, or Star Trek, or vice-versa. While there are little shout-outs to these other projects, it’s more of a “connective tissue” that links these projects to the diehard fans than anything really serious. After all, these are all “separate stories in separate galaxies,” said Abrams.

So what can we expect to see in Fringe? (WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!) Look for Mark Valley’s Agent Scott to turn up again following his death in the pilot. One of the panelists said cryptically that Agent Scott would live on in Olivia’s mind… and “will be back in some form,” according to Abrams. (Hmmm.) As for when the audience will get to meet the mysterious William Bell, the head of Massive Dynamics, Abrams said that they are “debating” that right now. “We want to make sure that the mystique [around Bell] is built up enough before meeting him,” said Abrams. And Burke said that they’ll be delving into the series’ mythology sooner rather than later.

While Lost might have an end date in sight, Abrams said that it's too early to talk about an end date for Fringe, but the producers do have an internal sense of what that ending would be (and when they’d like to do it), as it gives them a goal to move towards. “I care immensely about this show,” said Abrams.

Fringe launches September 9th at 8 pm ET/PT on FOX.

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