Even with a move to Friday night that upset many fans of the drama series, Fringe has been holding strong with its devoted followers, thanks to strong stories from its creative team and great acting from its cast, including co-stars Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and John Noble. During a recent interview, executive producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman talked about the feedback from the network on the show’s Friday ratings, what’s exciting them about the storytelling path they’re currently on, how things will be escalating in both worlds, how the relationship between Peter (Jackson) and Olivia (Torv) will be getting worse and better, that they already know where they would take the series through Season 5, and how they get many of their ideas from their own nightmares. They also teased what viewers can expect from the next episode, “6B,” airing on February 18th.
Question: Since the move to Friday, what feedback have you guys gotten from the network?
J.H. WYMAN: We went into it with the understanding that there’s a number that would make me very happy, which is 1.2 to 1.4. There were a lot of naysayers in that. People get nervous when things move to Friday. Friday has become a landscape where shows just don’t do very well as business for the network. But, we were going there on a creative high, at least from our perception, and the media has been so cool. It’s largely because of the reviews that the viewers are coming and staying and loving the show. The network takes a lot of notice in the reviews. So, we felt confident going into Friday nights, knowing that we’re on a creative high, and we know what the show is. It’s so difficult to make a show, so anything can go wrong at any time, but for one reason or the other, these shows weren’t on their creative upswing. They were maybe diluted because the original vision didn’t work, and they were trying to find the show, or it just got to a point where people weren’t interested in the mythology anymore, so they tried to do some drastic things to change it. There have been a lot of shows that died there. We were hoping that our fans would follow and say, “No, we’re loving what they’re doing, we love the show, and we’re going to follow.” So we’re really happy, obviously. Who can’t be happy with a 1.9 and a 1.6. Our DVRs are really great. We feel really good about it, and so does the network.
JEFF PINKNER: The truth is that there are very few fortunate enough network television dramas that don’t watch the ratings. It’s just a fact of life. There’s only so much that we can control. We can control the creative vision of our show. We can control the institution of our show. And, FOX are legitimately fans of the show. They’ve told us that, from the beginning. They’ve demonstrated it to us, again and again and again. They have American Idol. That’s one of the shows that’s not a drama. That’s one of the shows that will never have to worry about ratings, at least for the foreseeable future. They made the business decision that they wanted that show on Wednesday and Thursday, this year. We had to move somewhere. Our fans had been asking FOX to move us off of Thursday night for a year. They moved us to Friday and our fans freaked out, understandably. People are afraid of change. We all are. Human beings are afraid of change, but change can be good. Our audience are insanely loyal and we’re so grateful for them, having moved with us. And, the stories that we’re telling, we had written and filmed before we knew we were moving, so we’re not doing anything in reaction to the move. We’re just doing our jobs and telling the best stories we can, in the way that we enjoy telling them. If you build it, hopefully they will come.
WYMAN: In general, the network’s incredibly supportive of the numbers, and they’re actually very pleased with the move.
As this path moves forward, what storylines have really excited you guys?
PINKNER: I think one of the things that has been really fun for us is how much there was to discover with Walternate and Bolivia, and how much those two characters provided counterpoint and shed light on their alter egos, that we’ve known for going on three seasons now. The dynamic between Lincoln and Charlie and Bolivia, and the energy of the stories on the other side, feels like a different version of our show that just has a different inherent rhythm and different inherent chemistries in those characters, and that’s been really joyful for us.
WYMAN: Yes, we get to do two shows about one show, so that turned into a great thing. In particular, a lot of great things came with the alternate Broyles investigating that and having our Broyles actually stand next to his own dead body. That was cool.
PINKNER: Lance [Reddick] is an amazing actor, and the truth is that he’s providing such a necessary and awesome function for us, that it was really fun to see a different version of him as well. It gave us an opportunity to explore that.
Have you figured out a pattern of how often you will jump back and forth now?
WYMAN: That was a huge thing for us. Obviously, when we said we were going to go over there, there was some hesitancy because the core viewers want to see what they know, and the network and the studio were concerned that our core audiences would like to stay with our main characters. So, it was a gamble. Hindsight is 20/20, and now we’re looking at it as a rare opportunity where we get to say, “Oh, yes, it did work, and that’s great.” We did know that we wanted to tell really compelling stories over there, and get the mythology over there really firing, and we became slowly in love with over there, when we were conceiving it. But, we knew that we couldn’t do it justice, if we were going to do a couple of scenes in one episode over there, and then you’re back here, and you’re bouncing back and forth. We just felt that that wouldn’t do the idea justice. So, we really dove in, full tilt, with the different credit sequence and said, “Look, this is what you’re going to get.” But, we know what we want to do and the stories dictate where we are going. If there is a certain theme that we want to examine, and that we find is really important to get across in several different episodes, it’ll be really interesting to tell a thematic element over here, and then see how our characters deal with it, and then show a very different facet of that same theme over there, which is really a great position to be in. So, we don’t really decide we’re going to have two over here and then one over there, and then two over here and one over there. It’s definitely dictated by our storytelling and our narrative.
Are Peter and Olivia going to get worse before they get better?
PINKNER: They will get worse and better. I don’t think the value won’t be good or bad. It’s going to be more complicated than that. Since Olivia returned and their relationship shattered and they’ve been trying to pick up the pieces, they’ve been getting closer and they will continue to, but the problems that they’re dealing with are going to continue to complicate. So, it won’t be as simple as, “Now we’ve put our relationship troubles to bed and we can be a couple again,” or, “Now we’ve dealt with the problems of our universe and our relationship is taking a back seat.” We’re throwing a whole bunch of things at them.
WYMAN: We’re always trying to get deeper, more complex emotions because we find that’s a really rich area for us to investigate in. There are so many facets to a real relationship, and these are incredible circumstances that they’re going through, but we try and make it as deep as we can. So, you’ll see a whole bunch of shifting still to come, in the entire rest of the season.
The information revealed at the end of the last episode will it make its way to the other universe, so is there going to be drama about the reaction to that information?
PINKNER: Yes. Based on the information revealed at the end of the last episode, there will be consequences over there for Bolivia and Walternate, escalating the storytelling on that side. The two universes are in disharmony. They’re in a fractured balance, so anything that happens on one side, certainly for the duration of this season and moving forward by design, will affect the other side. And, the information in the reality of what is happening over there will get to our side relatively soon, and will absolutely affect what’s going on over here.
WYMAN: On our show, we’re really lucky because we get to tell things that maybe you understand as a view and you’ve seen before. It’s not the first time you heard about somebody having an affair outside of their relationship. That’s always very interesting drama, but it becomes a totally different thing when the person that your loved one’s fooled around with is yourself, or another version of yourself. So, in keeping with that, the expectations that one would have with that reveal, at the end of the last episode, will not unfold in a way that is traditional. I think that people should be prepared for that, and that could be really interesting.
Are there going to be any wrinkles going on, during these next 10 episodes?
WYMAN: We’re full of wrinkles.
PINKNER: We’re more like a pair of corduroy pants. The answer is yes. Largely, this season has been like a march to war, and it will continue to be so driven, equally by the relationship of Peter and the two Olivia’s, but we’ve got more stuff coming. We’re going to complicate it and, like we’ve done in the past two years, as we drive to the end of the season, it will be about setting up next season.
WYMAN: We look at it like chapters. For us, when you read a great novel and you finish a chapter you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, something happened at the end of the chapter that’s going to propel me forward.” That has been what we desire to emulate. In the last stretch of this, it’s going to be very compelling because you’re going to turn the page of a new chapter. You’re going to understand our show in a different capacity, and it’s going to stretch your mind, and it’s going to make you think, “I never saw that coming.” That’s what we feel we owe the fans. We have to make sure that it’s for a very good reason, and that it’s something that is definitely integrated into the storyline that you hopefully didn’t see coming. We have a few cards to lay down that I don’t think anybody really expects.
Once you brought our Olivia back into our world, what have been some of the unexpected challenges of visiting that world?
PINKNER: They initially wanted us to bring Olivia back much sooner. We were actually thinking we would bring her back around Episode 8 to 10. Ultimately, we convinced them that we would do it at the earlier part of our intended timeline, but we really wanted to spend suitable time setting up the alternate universe because we wanted to go back there. Frankly, they were very nervous of telling stories that John Noble, playing Walter, wouldn’t be in. What we discovered was that the energy of Lincoln, Charlie and Bolivia made up for the lack of Walter. Energetically and rhythmically, it made up for missing Walter. The discovery for us, that was really wonderful, was that it was a joy to go to the other side, to explore another version of our show with cases that affected everything happening on our side and with character that we, as writers, had come to love. The fans were all inclined to hate Bolivia and slowly, over time, they’ve started to find the relationship between the characters on the other side and the stories we’re telling on the other side charming and also really intriguing. It’s just deepening everything that’s happening over here. So, rather than a challenge, we actually found it to be a really great creative outlet.
How far into Season 4 do you guys already have a story developed?
PINKNER: Through to Season 5.
WYMAN: Yes. We never really have a shortage of ideas that we like. Some of them ultimately will cancel each other out, or sometimes you realize, “Well, maybe that’s not as interesting as I thought,” or something that you didn’t think was as interesting turns into something fantastic. So, we are definitely of the school of thought that preparation is nine-tenths of the walk. You can really set things up and they can pay off, in really great ways. I think there’s a lot of that stuff coming up that will demonstrate the forethought, and the keen viewer will be able to say, “Oh, my gosh, I remember that.” Now, that’s taken on a whole different meaning. The only way that we can do that is if we know where we’re going.
PINKNER: The truth is that we’ve been setting up Season 4, in brush strokes, very early on in Season 2, and we’ve been setting up what we imagine – with luck and grace and hoping we stay on the air this far – Season 5 since Season 1. It’s just a matter of whether we have the good fortune of getting to tell these stories.
WYMAN: I don’t know about other people’s process, but could you imagine not being prepared? We could do it no other way. I’m impressed with people that can do it, but that’s not us. We’re trying to tell thematic stories, which takes time. The multiple levels that we like take time. I’m sure that we fall short of our goals, all the time, but there’s enough fear, every week, over what story we are going to tell the next week. If we didn’t already have a blueprint, the anxiety would be overwhelming.
How would you tease the next episode?
PINKNER: Without spoiling anything, we would say that there are at least two different kinds of parasites in the episode, only one of which is a bug.
Can you give any hints about other weird things coming from the other side that we might see, during the rest of this season?
WYMAN: Well, the other side gives us an opportunity to do some pretty wild things, as you can imagine, because things are dangerously out of control there. We’re fascinated enough with the notion that things that we take for granted, like sheep, don’t exist over there because they were killed out by this beetle. When you’re watching the freak of the week type of episodes, it’s connected to our mythology. We take things and tropes that we know in our world, and turn them on their head.
PINKNER: The very next time we tell a story on the other side, this season, will be very much a character-centric episode, and the threat will be specific to our characters. It won’t be the same sort of independently acting bad guy. It will be more of a story that is specifically driven by and affecting our characters, but within that, there will hopefully be both fascinating and, in some ways, eye opening and troubling matters of biology, which is a well that we go back to, all the time. Our bodies fascinate us.
Where do you guys get the ideas for these things?
PINKNER: Typically, they come from nightmares.
WYMAN: Jeff and I try to freak each other out. Inherently, human beings have the same fears, like bugs, the feeling of being alone, not being able to breath, or drinking or ingesting something that you can’t get out of you.
PINKNER: We read an article recently that human beings are psychologically far more afraid of bugs than they are of driving a car, whereas people get killed by cars every single day, and there is hardly ever a story of people getting killed by bugs. It’s because it’s part of our reptile brain. Way, way, way, way back in our ancestry, bugs and parasites were a threat, so it’s a well that we can go to. This upcoming episode wasn’t really driven by a scare of beetles, but more of just a primal fear.
WYMAN: And, we’re also interested in biological engineering. A major theme that we’re always touching on is, “How far is too far? What are we supposed to know? As human beings, are we supposed to be meddling in these kinds of things? Where does the line begin?” For us, the best science fiction stories talk about these things that I think are incredible questions about advancement in technology, but also relate to very human conditions. For us, the process is always, “What’s the theme?” Immortality is the theme. Wanting to leave something behind, but you may leave something behind that you don’t want. Sometimes, I’ll come in and say, “I had a dream about this,” and then we’re like, “Well, what is that a metaphor for?,”and we’ll get to the bottom of it. Or, Jeff will have an idea and we’ll say, “Well, what’s the metaphor for that? What are we really saying with that? How do we investigate that?” That’s how the ideas come about. So, the beetles really were a very small part of what we were trying to get across in the episode. It’s always richer when it has something behind it, where the creatures or the intention touches on a science fiction level.
PINKNER: And, there are two kinds of parasites in the episode, both of which thematically touch on immortality and how, when you die, you can leave a part of yourself behind. Obviously, the bad guy in the episode, with the best of noble intentions, is trying to change the world for the better. He’s just doing it in a very misguided fashion.
Should viewers trust Sam Weiss (Kevin Corrigan)?
WYMAN: You know, don’t trust that Weiss.
PINKNER: If anybody unfurrowed the anagram that was on the chalkboard in Walter’s lab on the other side, it said, “Don’t trust Sam Weiss.”
WYMAN: Sam is a character that I feel safe in saying still has many, many, many, many layers to reveal. His motivations will become clearer and you’ll get a better understanding. We’re not going to keep pushing it down the line and not answering it because that frustrates everyone. You’re going to find out about him. Hopefully, it will be something that you don’t see coming.
What is going on with Peter being all dark and killing shape-shifters and lying to Olivia?
PINKNER: He will come clean to her soon enough.
WYMAN: There’s a reason.
Will it be this season?
PINKNER: Oh, yes.
How is she going to handle that type of betrayal?
PINKNER: That’s what we’re building a story around. As far as she’s concerned, the biggest betrayal was the fact that he was sleeping with a different version of her and didn’t realize it. All of these other smaller betrayals cascaded from that. He has reason to be more specifically concerned by what the shape-shifters are doing than anybody else on our show. There’s a drawing of him standing inside that machine, so he’s got questions and, by nature, he’s a character who, for years, has only relied on himself.
WYMAN: He only had himself to trust, but then he’s thrust into this situation where he has no knowledge and he’s basically reacting. He’s been reacting since he came on the scene. So, he let go of a certain amount of control in his life, to be a part of this family and to actually go down the road, and then realized he’s in the nucleus of this entire thing that’s happening. He doesn’t have any answers, and this season was always going to be a season about self-actualization for a lot of the characters. This is the beginning of those steps.
PINKNER: The truth is that, every one of us, as human beings, even in a committed relationship, has moments and thoughts and actions that, whether or not they share them with their loved one, tells you, as much as anything, about them as people and their relationship. We’re going to explore that between these two characters.