Executive Producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman Interview FRINGE

     September 23, 2010

After the shocking turns of events that left an imprisoned Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) stuck in the alternate universe, Fringe returns for Season 3 and viewers will get to find out if she can fight her way home while Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Walter (John Noble) try to move on with their lives unknowingly alongside alternate Olivia. As Walter copes with the consequences of his choices, the story will now alternate between “over here” and “over there,” from one universe to the other, as both Fringe team work to solve unexplainable cases.

In a recent interview to promote the launch of the new season, executive producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman talked about their approach in alternating the episodes from one universe to the other, the shift in dynamics with the other versions of the characters and the journey that the characters will be taking. Check out what they had to say after the jump:

Question: Is it true that the episodes this season are going to alternate from one universe to the other?

Pinkner: It is true. What we’re really excited about is that, as this season gets underway, and for awhile, we have left our heroine on the other side, in what we refer to as “over there,” in the alternate universe. Our universe is over here. We thought that the best way to really thoroughly tell these stories was to dive into them wholeheartedly, so an entire episode will take place over there with the alternate Fringe team, and then another episode will take place over here. Rather than trying to tell an episode that takes place in both universes simultaneously within the same episode, we really wanted to thoroughly explore a Fringe case over there and the journey that our heroine is on, and then come back over here because the character that we refer to as Bolivia, which is short for Bad Olivia, is here embedded in our team. We have point of view characters in both universes and it seemed to us the perfect opportunity to really explore, in a thorough way, the alternate universe.

Wyman: Yes, we just loved the idea and it became apparent to us that we felt that the fans would really appreciate a mythology in two places. That gave us the ability to have two shows about one show, which you never get the chance to do on television. It just presented itself in such a natural, organic way. Once we got in there, we realized that it’s great that we can have a fantastic, compelling mythology over there and get people invested in that universe with someone at the heart of it that they absolutely identify with and care about, and then actually come back over on this side and have the mythology carrying out here. We’re really excited to see what fans say about that because we believe in it 100% and we think it’ll be a really great journey.

Pinkner: One of the challenges that we’ve had is that the idea of an alternate universe is both heavy and intellectual, but as soon as you start to experience it, you realize that it’s really emotional and easy to grasp. In Season 1, we acknowledged an alternate universe. In Season 2, we visited it. For Season 3, we really want to spend time there and get to know what the conditions are like over there, which really just reflects on our own society and what life could be like here in our own world.

Both Olivia and Bolivia will be out of place, working with different team members for several episodes. What sort of dynamic can we expect between all of those characters?

Pinkner: Last season was about secrets. This season we’re really going towards the concept of duality, the concept of choice and the concept of who are we as people. What happens when you make a different choice? What are those consequences? So, as a blanket theme, self-actualization for our characters is really where we wanted to go this year. When you start to look at two versions of the same person, you can really get into some very profound questions and areas that are interesting because you’re going to see someone who is not Olivia dealing with Walter, or with alternate Broyles. You’re going to start to be able to see different aspects of people’s personalities and how they are. Obviously, there’s that great tension when it’s the quintessential spy on a mission concept, but we get to do it in a way that, fortunately for us, is fascinating because it’s the same person.

Wyman: Not to mention that we have one of the most unique potential love triangles, in that it’s one guy with two different versions of the same girl.

What can you say about the status of William Bell?

Pinkner: William Bell has died on the other side. We like to say that, on Fringe, nothing is final. We took a lot of understandable heat at the beginning of last season when Charlie from our universe died and Kirk Acevedo, who had been a very important part of the show, was killed off. Without trying to spoil our show and where we’re going, we have a show with two universes, but Leonard Nimoy has retired from acting. If Leonard chooses to come back, there is a story in place that we would love to tell, but in his absence, William Bell is a big part of this world and in the world of Fringe, science death is not the end.

Wyman: I definitely think it’s fair to say that you have not experienced the last of William Bell.

Since the alternate universe thing can get complicated very fast, did you decide to split the episodes in order to keep track of everything, or was it just for story?

Wyman: That’s an interesting question because obviously you don’t want to confuse anybody. It just became so apparent that that was the best way to lay out the story that we wanted to tell. We think that you’re really short-rifting some compelling moments if you’re cutting back and forth in one episode, and you’re going over there for two scenes and you’re over here for two scenes. It really was an evolution in our storytelling and a natural progression, where we thought, “Hey, this is really cool. We have so much to say about over there and the people in it, and we have so much to say about the people here, so how do we do this?” Then, it was the concept of the red credit sequence and the blue credit sequence, and we’re going to actually devise a way of telling two shows about one show for a certain amount of time, in order to let our fans really experience over there as its own piece because the reaction that we received from our fans was, “We love the alternate universe.” We’re just doling out these little packages of information over there, in a way that Jeff and I both felt was palatable to somebody that would want to follow the story, actually invest in it and let their imagination get away with them without worrying about tracking it. It was a natural decision. We knew it was right for us to tell more deeper, more profound stories without confusing anyone.

Pinkner: We sincerely hold ourselves up very strictly to the confusion barometer.  To us, our show is very much like a family drama, masquerading as a science fiction show, or as a procedural show and family drama. The theme of the story we’re telling, we want it to play against the big backdrop. We want it to be a story that a broader audience can understand and appreciate because we think the things that we’re talking about are universal and have great appeal. We’re not trying to be a genre show that’s a cult hit. Nothing would be greater than to have people passionate about our show, which is incredibly important to us. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice, and we’re thrilled to be licorice. At the same time, we honestly and sincerely show these stories to our parents and we say, “Can you guys follow this?” When they go, “Yes, totally,” we know we’ve hit it because we want to be accessible. Should people want to watch, we really want it to be welcoming, and the way we figured to do that was to tell episodes over there. The concept, as soon as you see it, is really not that hard to grasp at all. There’s so many metaphors that apply, or analogies that everybody understands. It’s like, “Oh, there’s the dream life and the waking life. There’s daytime and nighttime.” It’s the idea of two worlds. We didn’t invent it.

Wyman: It’s not hard to get, but the more accessible the show is, the better it is. We realized early on that the science fiction is good when they become more about universal truths and morality, and what’s its like to be a human and live here. The licorice analogy is interesting because sometimes it takes a certain type of person to really say, “Hey, I like sci-fi.” We’re hoping that we get all those people because we love those people, but we want to get those people that say the show is at its best when there are real stories that are identifiable for people living here now.

Peter and Walter obviously had big problems last season, and now they’re back working together. What can viewers expect with those two?

Pinkner: Last year, what John Noble did with that character always left us breathless because he really transcended everything that we had written and he became so heartbreaking as a character. That’s a blessing and a curse, at the same time. The break-up of Peter and Walter played itself out in a way that we were very happy with. What becomes a challenge is how to get John and Josh to play something that we haven’t seen before, and that got us thinking and made us like, “Okay, how is this going to begin to resolve?” I say begin because, if we really try to look at the relationship like a real relationship, and when things break down in a relationship they’re not easily put back together, people have very strange feelings when they’re trying to reconcile. There are trespasses, both perceived and real. There are so many difficult, muddy, ugly things in a true father/son complex relationship, and once we started looking at that portion of our program realistically, we realized that we had a lot to play there. We realized that we could give John and Josh something to really chew on this year, that’s different from last year, but just another shade. What’s going to happen is that they’re going to be okay, and then they’re not going to be okay. Things are going to be solved for a minute, and then further complications are going to come up. Because the lie that was perpetrated against Peter, and what Walter has done, if you take it for face value and you really look at it, it’s the quintessential kidnapping story. There are feelings there. This season, these people are going to come into their own. Peter is going to demonstrate things emancipated from his father, for a certain amount of time. He’s going to self-actualize and figure out where he plays into who he is and who he thought he was. By the same token, Walter will do the same. He will get to the point where he realizes that he has to go through insanity to get to the place he needs to be okay. So, we can promise there is going to be some really nice drama between them, and our impression of a real relationship and how those conflicts play out.

Do you have any fun stuff coming up that you can talk about?

Pinkner: Yes, absolutely. One of the things that we love about the alternate universe is that it’s really an opportunity to world build. We spend a lot of time and attention on it, and what’s really been so wonderful to us is the level of attention and detail that all of our departments in Vancouver, and all of the writers and actors, weigh in on. Everyone thinks about things like, what would our daily life be like? What would our universe be like? What would our world be like, if certain decisions had been made differently? What if the White House had been hit, instead of the Twin Towers? What if the Empire State Building was a docking station for zeppelins? What if the Hindenburg had never exploded and people traveled via zeppelin? What consequences would flow from these things? If our universe was starting to breakdown and the Bermuda Triangle was actually in the middle of New York Harbor and boats got sucked into vortexes and we were living in World War II like conditions all the time, what would it look like? Tough times forge more noble, stronger people. What would that universe be like? Everybody has taken up the charge, and the level of attention and detail shocks and delights even us. From a character standpoint, we get to really spend time with a different version of Broyles – one who is still married – and we see how he’s different, as a person. We get to really experience what Bolivia’s life is like. Our Olivia was essentially abused as a child. She was given these experiments, which changed her world view. That never happened to Bolivia. Charlie is still alive on the other side and has a different life. So, for our characters and for us, as storytellers, exploring these characters will hopefully lead the audience to think, “Oh, what if, instead of breaking up with that guy back in college, I had married him? What would my life be like right now?” Facebook is such an opportunity for people to explore the choices they made and reconnect with people from their past and imagine how their life would be different. It’s such a subconscious theme in our world these days, and we get to play with that actively through our show.

Wyman: We can definitely say that members of our team will be aware of the doppelgangers of themselves on the other side. It’s not just going to be Olivia and Bolivia. You’re going to understand, throughout the season, and that’s going to be neat because that’s also something that we want to investigate. Imagine seeing a version of yourself that’s just a little better. That could be depressing.

Will Olivia form any new relationships on the other side, as she’s trying to work out her situation there?

Pinkner: That’s very astute. We love these characters that we’ve gotten to meet on the other side. Lincoln Lee, played by Seth Gabel, is just delightful. We’re so thrilled to have Kirk Acevedo back. Lance Reddick is really playing two versions of Broyles. It’s a unique situation where we have actors creating different characterizations of characters that they’ve already created. Walternate is so different from Walter, but so understandable. His son was taken. It changed his worldview, but we get to see, from the back end of the telescope, how life events changed these characters. So, Olivia will absolutely spend time interacting with all of them, and that’s going to change her worldview as well.

Does Bolivia begin to see things a little differently on this side of the alternate universe?

Pinkner: Very clearly in the season finale, Bolivia is charged with the notion that people from our side have invaded and damaged their world, we are the enemy and Walter’s lying which, is metaphorical for them being monsters in human skin. He doesn’t mean it literally. He means that they’re the enemy. They’re the ones attacking us. She’s now going spend time living with Walter, Peter and Broyles, and just explore our world, and of course that’s going to affect her world view. That’s one of the things that we’re really interested in.  At the same time, she’s an agent with a mission, and she’s very loyal and dedicated to the life she’s living and the people she works for. Therein exactly lies the conflict.

Besides struggling with his relationship with Walter, Peter is also struggling with the fact that this doomsday device is reacting to him. How much is that going to play into where his character goes this season?

Wyman: It’s going to play a lot. That’s a major thing. If you look at last season again, it’s the season of secrets, and Peter did not understand the secret. Everybody else knew, and he didn’t know. He was this huge revelation at the end of the season that gave us a lot of gasoline for the season, but now that’s different. This season, when he comes in, he is now the person who knows more than anybody and wants, more than anything, to find out how he fits into this. Why him? What does this mean? Why did this thing happen? Those questions ultimately become his core, and he wants to figure out some answers that nobody on his team is actually qualified to answer. That’s going to be a big part of his self-actualization. There are a lot of answers that we think are compelling, mysterious and interesting this season. He’s going to start to put together a really nice sized jigsaw puzzle that will be eventful at the end of the season.

Pinkner: One of the things that we’re really trying to attend to, and that we both learned from the experience as viewers and storytellers, is that Magoffins, like the weapon, are only as important as how it affects the characters, and how it drives them and changes their emotions. The other thing that we have found that works for us really well is to ask questions, but then give answers and play the consequences of those answers.

Wyman: We don’t want to frustrate anybody.

Pinkner: We will explore the doomsday machine and we will learn more about it. We’re really interested in how that’s going to affect Peter, as a person.

It almost seems like Peter is doomed to be tragically unhappy for the rest of his life because first he finds out about Walter and now he’s got the whole Olivia thing going on. Is he ever going to have happiness?

Wyman: Well, you have to go through darkness to get to light, so that’s his journey right now.  Just keep in mind that, when he first showed up on the team, this was a guy who was rudderless and had absolutely no concept of who he was. He was a con-man with very many personas, didn’t really commit to anything and didn’t really have substantial relationships in life that he could connect with. If anything, I guess one could argue that he’s found a family, sometimes that he doesn’t want, but has allowed him to become a more dimensionalized human being. That journey is like real life. Sometimes dark, terrible things happen and you have to move through them. They don’t go away very quickly. They actually form who you are, once you pass through to the other side. It’s a difficult journey, but once you get through to the other side, you come out stronger and more enlightened. I love a character – and I know that Jeff does too – that basically is trying to do the right thing, but is having setbacks on an emotional or intellectual level. He’s confused, but he’s trying to be a good person and do the right thing. He’s trying to get answers and find happiness. Everybody goes through that, so he’s this walking metaphor for us. Every time you think you’ve got something great, something comes around the corner that can set you off balance and you have to deal with it. That’s how we see him. I think that he’ll find happiness in increments and where they really count.

Is the show moving away from the procedural elements?

Pinkner: Everybody defines procedural differently. There will absolutely be a story in each episode, with a beginning, middle and end. There will be cases. Our team is charged with solving cases, which we love, and those stories reflect on the themes that the characters are going through. We’re not suddenly changing the storytelling of the show. It’s expanded and now we have two universes and all the things we’ve talked about, but we’re going to be exploring cases on this side and that side.

Wyman: With the monster-of-the-week versus the mythology, we realize there was this sense of frustration from our core viewers and our big fans, who wanted to see the mythology. But, of course, as responsible filmmakers, and understanding that we have partners in Warner Brothers and in FOX, it was very important to constantly try to attract more viewers and not make the show alienating so that, if you haven’t watched Season 1 and Season 2, you’re done. We didn’t want to get that because we think that would be a tragedy. We believe that anybody can come into Fringe. So, we were stuck in this really hard place where the studio and the network wanted stand-alones for that very reason. We realized what we need to do to satiate both our hardcore fans and our financial responsibilities, so we created a term that we coined “mythalone.” Then, the viewers get a payoff in the concept of mythology, but the viewer who hasn’t seen it can sit down and watch it, and still enjoy an episode. That’s where we live now. That procedural element is part of our DNA, so we’re always going to have that, it’s just that we really got it that we didn’t want to frustrate our fans.

Since Walter is going to gain some extra responsibility this season, how is that going to affect his character, going forward?

Pinkner: Walter is Walter. Walter has been damaged, but he is still just as interested in exploring as he ever was. It’s an opportunity for Walter. One of the themes that we constantly go back to is that Walter has missed 17 years of his life. Rip Van Winkle is very much a theme on the show. Peter has been robbed from his life. Part of Olivia’s life was taken away and changed. Walter missed 17 years of his life, during which his partner and best friend – the Lennon to his McCartney – was continuing to explore things that they had talked about, and now Walter has the means of discovering and exploring what those things were.

What episodes have you enjoyed working on the most and why?

Pinkner: As co-show runners, it’s our responsibility to oversee all of the episodes. There are some that we write the scripts for, but we’re responsible for overseeing them all and it’s hard to say which ones were our favorites. We love all of our children, equally. The bigger landmark episodes, whether they have our names on them or not, are the ones that we like. The ones that truly have the most emotional grounding are always the ones that we respond to the most.

Wyman: It’s strange, but each one becomes its own puzzle to crack. You fall in love with the theme of what you’re doing. I particularly liked “White Tulip” because it was a love story. To tell a love story in the framework of science fiction was something that excited us. At the end of the day, when we’ve broken an episode and we look at it, if we can look at each other and say, “This is a great plot, but did we get across what the episode is really about?,” and the answer is yes, then that’s what makes us go home and say, “Wow, that was a good day.”

What do you think the viewers are going to enjoy the most about Season 3 of Fringe?

Pinkner: With every episode comes a free box of candy.

Wyman: It’s the same stuff that we’re excited about. We love the alternate universe. On a global scale, schematically, we’re at a point where we realize that the world’s in a really hard place right now and that it’s a place where people have lost a lot of faith in certain aspects, whether it’s politics, religion, family or whatever. There are so many things breaking down that we believe, on a subconscious level, people want to look for something that can give them some hope. When you think of the concept of a parallel universe and you realize, “Wow, there could be another universe,” it’s pretty wild. We want people to escape and say, “Look at that. Yes, that is something that maybe I can believe. Maybe there is something else out there. Maybe there is another universe with all of us in it.” Hopefully, they can find some faith in the unknown. That triggered us to get into the alternate universe. We’re hoping they’ll respond to those little flashes of the alternate universe and how things happen differently over there. What compels us this season is watching our characters going to a place where they grow and go through things.

Pinkner: We’re incredibly blessed. We have a phenomenal cast of actors who are all incredibly accessible. If we can, in 43 minutes and 25 seconds, give our audience moments of being scared, moments where they laugh, moments where they’re grossed out, and then moments where they’re moved emotionally, we’ve done our job. We now have a bigger canvas and new actors that we’re really excited to be joining our cast to tell those stories.