J.J. Abrams on the STAR TREK Sequel, LOST, FRINGE, and NBC’s UNDERCOVERS

     January 12, 2010


J.J. Abrams was at Monday night’s Fox All-Star Party for the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour on behalf of his sophomore television Fringe. But, with so many things on his plate, like the final season of Lost, his new pilot for the NBC spy series Undercovers and the 2012 sequel for Star Trek, Abrams had plenty to talk about and was more than happy to do so.

During an informal chat, the director/writer/producer talked about possible fan reaction to the last season of Lost, how he’d like to set up Fringe with the same type of end-game, his preparation to direct the pilot for Undercovers and how there’s a release date for Star Trek 2, but no finished script yet. Check out what he had to say after the jump:

For fans of Fringe, J.J. said this season finale is not going to conclude the series.

j.j._abrams__1_.jpgWhen he was asked if he was closer to a decision about whether he would direct the next Star Trek movie, J.J. said:

JJ: No. We don’t have a script yet or anything, but we have a release date (June 29, 2012). There’s a release date, but we’re still working on the script. The idea is that they have faith in this team.

Do you have a date for delivering a script for Star Trek 2?

JJ: Not really. I’m sure there is one, but I haven’t figured out what it is. You can work backwards and figure out that you probably would need something, shit, now!

What do you think of Spider-Man going up against Star Trek 2 for Summer 2012?

JJ: I’d be psyched to see what that is. I know they’re talking about a reboot of Spider-Man, so that will be interesting. I would think that there’s room for all of us.

Here’s the full conversation. Tons of updates on Lost, Undercovers, and Fringe:

Question: Are the two universes on “Fringe” finally going to start to collide?

JJ: There is some pretty cool stuff that’s going to happen, by the end of the second season. Then again, Jeff [Pinkner] and Joel [Wyman], who are really running the show, have threatened to kill me, if I reveal anything. I will say that the plot that they had, at the beginning of this season, that we all talked about with Akiva Goldsman as well, will be coming to a really cool conclusion. I’m very excited about it.

fringe_tv_show_image_joshua_jackson_and_anna_torv__2_.jpgWill there be more William Bell (played by Leonard Nimoy)?

JJ: There is a shot of that, for sure. I don’t want to say for sure, either way, but it’s definitely a possibility.

How far are you into the development stage of your new NBC pilot, “Undercovers”?

JJ: We start shooting on Monday. So, we’re farther ahead than I even feel like we are.

Is that another sci-fi project?

JJ: No. It’s a romantic show that’s a comedy-drama about a couple who are spies.

WithLost” ending this season, will you be directing the last episode?

JJ: No. Jack Bender has really been the guy on that show as the directing producer, so it would be wrong for me to come in and be like, “Oh, move over, I’m going to direct.”

But, you did the first episode.

JJ: I know, but it would somehow be spoiling all this amazing work that he’s done. The fact is that he’s been living in Hawaii with the cast, so he’s going to do the last episode.

But, you will be directing on your new show?

JJ: I’m doing the pilot of “Undercovers,” yeah.

Does NBC suddenly seem like it’s a welcoming place for scripted drama, now that they’re going to free up the 10 o’clock hour again?

JJ: They were a welcoming place when they bought the pilot, so I’m thrilled to be there. There’s suddenly more hours available per week, which is good, but it doesn’t make it any more or less welcoming. The people at NBC have been extraordinarily nice and really supportive of this pilot. It’s the beginning of a relationship. It’s a weird thing. When you do a pilot with a new network, or even with a familiar one, with actors you haven’t worked with, it’s always a leap of faith. You’re rushing into a marriage with people that you believe will be great partners, but you just don’t know for sure. All you can do is, day-to-day, go “How is it? This feels good. That bugs me, so let’s talk about it.” It’s literally like being in a relationship. So far, we’ve had no fights. We’re still in the honeymoon period.

Do you know when you’ll have an idea of who the female lead is in “Undercovers”?

jj_abrams_image__3_.jpgJJ: If it’s not in the next 24 hours, I’m going to kill myself.

With terrorists around the world and wars going on, can you do serious dramas about terrorism and fear, or is it better to do something lighter?

JJ: One of the fun things about this new series that we’re doing is that it’s much more fun, light and escapist than heavy, intricately complex drama. For me, the idea of grappling with anything that feels like real terrorism, that’s not what I want to be watching, at the moment. I’m not saying that it’s not something that I wouldn’t watch, if someone else did it, but it’s something that I’m not focusing on right now.

Is it a bigger gamble to try something like that, with the way the world is now?

JJ: In terms of what people have gone to see at the movies, at least, it’s been harder to do stories that are war-centric. But, one of the great things that TV allows is a chance, not only to learn the news and what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world, but also escape from that. Getting a dose of wish fulfillment, escapist fun is something that, as a fan of television, I can understand, now more than ever.

Do you find it hard to go from the sci-fi drama to a lighter show?

JJ: No, it’s always a relief to jump from one genre to another because, no matter what, as much fun as you’re having or as well as it might work, after you work on one thing for a little while, it’s a breath of fresh air to work on something that has another point of view, another approach and another genre.

fringe_tv_show_image_joshua_jackson_and_anna_torv.jpgHow hands-on will you be with the new show? Are you going to launch it, like with “Lost” and “Fringe,” and then trust your team, or are you going to be more day-to-day with your involvement?

JJ: My guess is that, in the beginning, I’ll be more day-to-day with the show. I’m directing the pilot, but then my guess is that Josh Reims, with whom I’ve worked on “Felicity” with before, will be running the show more day-to-day. But, it was important to me that we set the tone, and get the right energy and dynamic with the characters.

Would you like to direct an episode of “Fringe”?

JJ: I would love to. That was before “Undercovers” popped up, but that doesn’t diminish my desire to do it. I never got a chance to work with Josh [Jackson], Anna [Torv] and John [Noble], and get in there, so I would still love to do that. It’s not something I’m ruling out at all.

Do you feel like Fox is committed to doing a third season of “Fringe,” despite putting you on Thursdays?

JJ: Despite our time slot, which is always frustrating, they’ve been wonderfully supportive. I have no complaints at all about how Fox has supported us or dealt with us. Though there’s no official news about anything, I’m hopeful that, despite everything, we’re holding our own with them.

Is the season going to end on a cliff-hanger?

JJ: It will not end concluding the series.

Are you closer to a decision about whether you’re going to direct the next Star Trek movie?

star_trek_movie_poster_imax.jpgJJ: No. We don’t have a script yet or anything, but we have a release date (June 29, 2012). There’s a release date, but we’re still working on the script. The idea is that they have faith in this team.

How gratifying was it to find out about the Writer’s Guild nomination for the first film?

JJ: I’m very happy for Alex [Kurtzman] and Bob [Orci].

Did you have any idea that that might come your way?

JJ: No. I’m thrilled for them. The truth is, they’re incredibly talented, hard-workers who often get marginalized because they’re so successful. But, they’re great writers, so it’s wonderful to see them get the kind of credit they deserve. (Production Designer) Scott Chambliss was nominated. The make-up team was nominated. The visual effects were nominated. It’s great to see these amazing artists who have worked so hard, who could easily get marginalized because it’s something called Star Trek. They’re so good. I hope that Michael Kaplan, who did an amazing job with the wardrobe, gets recognition too. Amazing people worked on that movie.

Now there’s buzz that it could be up for an Oscar. What would that mean for the film?

JJ: I can’t imagine it, but it would be a wonderful thing for everyone involved. It’s hard to fathom.

What did you think about the outcry over “Lost” being interrupted by President Obama?

JJ: That was ridiculous. That was silly. I love TV as much as anyone, but at a certain point, it’s priorities, people. It’s a little silly.

With “Lost,” because you knew what (executive producers) Damon [Lindelof] and Carlton [Cuse] were going to be doing, as the final season was playing out, were there moments of real excitement and joy, as you learned what was going to happen?

lost_tv_poster_final_season_01.jpgJJ: With this season, they’re doing some amazing, intricate stuff that’s really unexpected and very different, in a lot of ways. The way that it’s going to conclude is consistent with their unbelievable track record of brilliant storytelling, that’s really surprising in ways that are mind-bending, which is the thing about the show that I think they’ve done so wonderfully.

Is the end of the series what you thought it would be, from the beginning?

JJ: Oh, no way! No. There are little threads and elements, here and there, but truthfully, when we started it, we didn’t know exactly what was in the hatch. We had ideas, but we didn’t know to what extent it would be. The notion of The Others was there, but we didn’t know exactly what that would mean. Damon hadn’t come up with the idea of flash forwards yet. To see where we are and what they’ve created is insanely gratifying and it’s something that no one could have predicted, at the beginning of it. The evolution of it is really part of their glorious experiment of taking a show that we were all, at the beginning, saying, “How do you make this a series?,” and to see what Damon and Carlton have done is amazing to me.

You had the idea for the basis of it though, right?

JJ: There were a lot of ideas, but the specificity with which the thing played out was part of that leap of faith that it was going to work. That doesn’t mean that you plan everything out. You have big ideas, but when the better bigger ideas show up, you go with them.

What have you learned from “Lost” that you can take to other genre shows?

JJ: “Lost” is a special example. It’s hard to know. You could say that you shouldn’t get too intricately serialized because, at a certain point, it’s difficult. But, the truth is, I don’t know if Lost would have worked, if it had been anything else, and I don’t know how you would apply that to another show.

lost_dharma_initiative_fake_ads_seasick_pills.jpgIf the minutia and mythology hadn’t worked with the viewers, would you have tried to change “Lost,” or would you have just walked away?

JJ: It’s hard to imagine the alternate universe version of “Lost” where you think, “Oh, that’s the version that is the other way to tell the story.” It really does feel like the trajectory that was started had no obvious place to go. Over time, they created this amazing narrative that is really just a result of that leap of faith and trusting that the characters will tell us what the show is, as much as anything. Damon and Carlton really did an amazing job.

With ABC announcing an end-date so far in advance, did that help immeasurably, in terms of the storytelling?

JJ: That’s something that Damon and Carlton insisted upon. They said, “Tell us how fast we’re running, so that we know what the end-game is and where the finish line is.” If you don’t know whether it’s 10 seasons or 6 seasons, you’re spinning your wheels. I’m thrilled to see billboards that say, “The Final Season.” You don’t see that very often. To know that it’s a show that’s going to end on its terms means that there will be a sense of inevitability to it, and not a sense of a series reacting to a marketplace or a viewership. It’s really cool.

How satisfying do you think this final season will be for those who have followed the show since the beginning?

JJ: I think it will be really bittersweet. While I think it will be very satisfying, I also think it’s going to be the end of something that, for the cast and everyone involved, has been a magical ride. So, the idea that it’s ending is a little sad, but it’s much better to end this way than to have it be, “You should have ended two years ago.” I believe it will be a satisfying ending, for sure.

Would you like to have a similar plan for “Fringe,” to end the show on a specific date?

fringe_tv_show_image_joshua_jackson.jpgJJ: I think that would be wonderful. I don’t know how you go wrong when you know exactly where it’s going to go. Some shows don’t require it because they’re so funny that you don’t want them to end. But, with a show like “Fringe,” at a certain point, you want to have a sense of how long you’re going to be running.

Do you have a sense of where you want to take the show?

JJ: Oh, yeah. We had some really good sessions, early on, about where this thing could go, but no matter how much you talk about it, when you’re in episode 40-something of a series, it’s telling you what it is too. It’s evolved a lot, but any series does.

What has happened this season that you didn’t expect?

JJ: There were certain stories, especially the Walter and Peter story, and things with Olivia, that were actually going to play out longer, but that we jumped to and did sooner. And, there are other things that we’ve talked about, like her stepfather, that we’re putting off. There’s a lot of opportunity for where we’re going beyond this season, and I’m going to be optimistic about that. I feel like we have a long way to go still, but the evolution was key. The show has found a rhythm that is nice to see, and I’m really proud of everyone doing it.

Were you aware that people were having trouble warming up to the character of Olivia (played by Anna Torv)?

Anna Torv Fringe image.jpgJJ: Yeah. That was always a part of it. Her character is naturally someone who is in this weird world with these characters and situations, and it’s a little bit hard for her to be warm and cuddly in that role. So, it was about giving her some vulnerability and uncertainty in her own life, and where she’s from and where she’s going. That was one way in.

Do you envision a six-year arc for “Fringe,” in the same way as Lost?

JJ: With “Lost,” we didn’t get to a place until the third season where we said, “We need to know where half-way is,” and I feel like that’s something that, if we’re lucky enough to continue going, it would be smart to say, “Okay, let’s figure out what the actual date is, so we know how far we should push things.”

But, you’re not there yet?

JJ: Not yet.

You put so much heart and soul into television and now you also have movies. How are you going to balance the two?

j.j._abrams_image__1_.jpgJJ: Part of it is working with people who are awesome and whose work blows your mind, whether it’s with Jeff and Joel on Fringe, or Damon and Carlton on Lost. There are some producers who find material, help get it on the air and then oversee and have a team that works with them. That’s what I do, but I also sometimes write and direct as well. It might seem like I’m abandoning the thing, but what I’m trying to do is get it on its feet. While I may not have the patience of people like Joss [Whedon], David Kelley, Damon or Chris Carter, who are there from the beginning, for however many seasons, because I am a little more ADD than that, I would never leave a show, not knowing that it’s in worthy, brilliant hands that I honestly think could do a far better job, in the long term, than I could. I never know exactly how things are going to play out, but that’s how it’s been so far.

What do you think of Spider-Man going up against Star Trek 2 for Summer 2012?

JJ: I’d be psyched to see what that is. I know they’re talking about a reboot of Spider-Man, so that will be interesting. I would think that there’s room for all of us.

Do you have a date for delivering a script for Star Trek 2?

JJ: Not really. I’m sure there is one, but I haven’t figured out what it is. You can work backwards and figure out that you probably would need something, shit, now!

Star Trek movie image Chris Pine, Karl Urban, Zachary Quinto (1).jpg