Fringe debuted last Tuesday to decent ratings, and set up a new Abrams-verse full of mysteries waiting to be revealed. We’ll see soon enough if the pilot was enough to bring viewers back for a second episode when “The Same Old Story” airs tonight at 9pm.
When FOX invited me to attend the Fringe premiere events in New York City, I was initially skeptical about J.J. Abrams’ new endeavor. After all, I wasn’t a huge fan of Alias or Lost, mostly because I didn’t like how aimless the plotlines of those shows often seemed to be. It seemed to me like the writers didn’t have a clear picture of where they wanted the stories to go, and the episodes seemed to be the results of weekly all-nighters pulled to get the scripts in on time. I was afraid that Fringe was going to follow a similar trajectory, but participating in a roundtable discussion with the creators and writers of the show completely changed my mind.
In attendance at the roundtable were Bob Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Jeff Pinkner and J.J. Abrams. Actually, J.J. showed up late, but he immediately made amends by plying us with fresh cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery. No complaints from me!
They all must have worked with focus groups from the past shows they’ve worked on because a running theme in the roundtable discussion was that they didn’t want to make Fringe too serialized. A complaint they had received for Alias was that viewers often had a hard time following the show if they had missed an episode or even one act of an episode. So instead, they decided to give their show more of a procedural flavor.
“That’s one thing we demanded from the beginning when we all were going to sit down to do this show was, we have to learn our lessons from before,” Orci said. “We studied procedurals specifically to try and merge the two. Very against our instincts to do that, but when nine of the top TV shows are called Law & Order and CSI, you have to study them a little bit and figure out what it is that they’re doing.”
On the other hand, they didn’t want to skew too much to the standalone-type of episode. They still wanted to be able to tell a story.
“While we make sure that our episodes are self-contained – have a beginning, a middle, and an end – the character stories can be serialized,” Kurtzman added. “They don’t have to resolve themselves over the course of one show.”
As for my big complaint that the writers don’t know where they are going, my worries were quickly quelled. Kurtzman shared what he learned from Alias: “We had to have our endpoint in place.” He continued, “We knew that, with the series, we were going to have to reach a certain endpoint. The endpoint is very flexible in terms of when we get there. If they let us run for 12 seasons, you’ll see it in season 12. If they take us off the air by nine episodes, you’ll see it in episode 9.”
I find this incredibly reassuring. I am not sure that I want to devote so much time to a show if there isn’t going to be any payoff, if I’m just going to be suckered into more and more mysteries every week.
Last week’s pilot set up a universe in which mysterious things happen that can only be explained by kooky fringe science, but tonight, we’ll be able to see better how the series as a whole will be structured. The second episode of Fringe, “The Same Old Story,” airs tonight at 9pm on FOX.
-Debbie Chang, BuddyTV Staff Writer