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Yet another great conversation with Fringe's Pinkner & Wyman

Fringe‘s Executive Producers on the Success of Their Show: Part I

Fox has really been great in the last two years, about giving members of the press the opportunity to talk to cast and crew of many of its shows. Then again, seeing the enthuasism of some and the relative ease with which one can organize conference calls, it doesn’t come as that big a surprise.

Joel Howard Wyman & Jeff Pinkner, the executive producers of Fringe, are always enthusiastic and bubbly when we have talked to them in conference calls, and this time was no exception. The interview actually started up with some good laughs as Wyman warned us that: “everything is being recorded so WikiLeaks is getting this too so don’t say anything that you don’t expect to go out on all diplomatic channels”.

What with the move to Friday’s death slot, questions were bound to arise. Wyman and Pinkner don’t seem worried at all about said move. The latter tells us that the team is quite excited, as they “think it’s open territory that can be conquered. We really do believe our fans are loyal, and I believe they’re going to follow.  It’s a chance for us to get away from that statement that Friday night is not an opportune night though, and that we can actually deliver like The X-Files did”.

Wyman explained that: “when Fox informed us of the move, what was most important to us is that we understood that our audience watches the show not like a standalone audience watches the show, but they are actually watching it as an investment over time. The long arching story we have planned for our characters is going to get told.  It’s funny; there are more Fringe fans at Fox than any show we’ve ever worked on before.  I think they and we all feel that if we can build a fan base on and sort of like carve out some territory on Friday night we can be there for years.” That is certainly very good news for fans who have, as Pinkner mentioned, invested a lot of time in the show the last three years.

One of the reasons, perhaps, that Pinkner and Wyman don’t seem particularly worried about their show’s move from Thursday to the Friday night death slot is that although it’s sci-fi and that, on network TV at least, sci-fi seems to be a naughty word, they just might have figured out why most of the biggest movies of all time are sci-fi (as Inception right now, Avatar, Star Wars, Star Trek, Jurassic Park, ET).

Pinkner thinks that “these movies work because they’re movies that are not about hard science fiction ideas.  They’re about people. And our show is about people.  The science fiction of our show isn’t: “Hey guess what, time travel!”  But rather, it’s: “What would you do if you had an opportunity to save your wife?  To go back into the past and save your wife who died in a car crash?  But in doing so you would affect the lives of all these other people that you didn’t know.  What kind of choice would you make?”  We always try to boil our storytelling down to human stories.

Wyman further explains that the Fringe production team: “always start with the dramatic equation like Jeff was referencing ‘White Tulip’, which was born from trying to be an essay on law and regret.  We start with very human things and situations that people can really relate to.  I can’t speak to anybody else’s program because I wasn’t the writer’s room or I wasn’t writing any of them, but our style—my style and Jeff’s style—is that.  We think that people want to see that.” 

On top of that, there are some fascinating stories that are “almost impossible to tell without science fiction”, according to Wyman. “The more science fiction the stories become, the more about the human condition it is. We’re both sort of schooled in the science fiction. We really understand collectively why they work for us. When we came to that conclusion, we found that we got a lot of response from that and others agree with us.  It’s so interesting to build a story and so many people have different ways of doing it.  That gets down to process and all these other boring things, but it’s where you’re starting from and what you’re saying that count. We just try on a weekly basis try and tell stories that people can relate to through the lens of science fiction.”

The human factor is so central to Fringe that Pinkner admits that “if someone were to ask us to describe the show, science fiction would not be in the sentence because to us, science fiction is as a genre at best and we love it.  We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t love it.  In the vein of the Twilight Zone, it’s just an opportunity to be a little bit rarified and a little bit larger than life and tell stories about the human condition from a point of view where it’s a little bit of a fresh take. It’s not the straight dramatic versions of the stories you’ve seen before. There’s an element that’s new and fresh and different that sort of like allows you a different perspective. So much of our show is just about perspective and perception.”

So is Fringe a social commentary of sorts, sometimes bordering on satire, what with Peter’s biting humour and Walter’s amusing mad scientist persona? Pinkner certainly doesn’t think so, since: “we’re a show that comments on our world but not in a way like The Simpsons. They are coming at their storytelling from such a different context and a different point of view while ours is trying to reflect on the human condition. Certainly, we’ve referenced Fox before and we’ve referenced The Simpsons in an episode and we do things that sort of like have fun with popular culture but not in a satirical kind of way.”

As always, an interview with Pinkner and Wyman went on and on and contains many goodies; so stay tuned for Parts II and III!

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