LOS ANGELES - “Pushing Daisies” pushes the limits of adventurous TV storytelling.
The colorful prime-time fairy tale, a charming blend of mystery, romance and humor, won’t premiere on ABC till early October. But it has already sent many TV critics into a tizzy. Yes, the mixed blessing of buzz has embraced “Pushing Daisies.”
“Is its originality a challenge or is that going to be its strength? Today there’s so much clutter out there that originality does win out,” says Stephen McPherson, president of ABC Entertainment and the man who said yes to series creator Bryan Fuller’s wild idea - the cockeyed fable of a young man named Ned (Lee Pace, “Soldier’s Girl”) with a very special gift.
He can touch dead people once and bring them back to life.
But if Ned touches them again, they go right back to oblivion.
“Problem is,” says Fuller, “he touches a dead girl, falls in love with her and can never touch her again.”
Fuller, the creator of such cult favorites as Showtime’s “Dead Like Me” and Fox’s all-too-short-lived “Wonderfalls,” has now concocted a show unlike any other.
“You know we’re going to continue to take chances,” says McPherson, who spoke with TV critics here last week at the recently concluded summer press tour. “`Ugly Betty’ last year and `Pushing Daisies’ this year, we’ve got to continue to find the next thing and not kind of regurgitate the stuff that we already have.”
Over the past five seasons, ABC has found its own groove, staying away from crime procedurals and developing a popular prime-time family of humor-infused dramas and sly soap operas, including “Desperate Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Ugly Betty.”
But “Pushing Daisies,” which ABC counts on to lead off an all-new Wednesday lineup of dramas and dramedies that also includes the “Grey’s Anatomy” spin off “Private Practice” and the stylish soap “Dirty Sexy Money,” is one far-out funhouse.
“I wanted to see a fantastical world where we could have a little bit more fun telling stories than you would on a typical TV show,” says Fuller.
When private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) discovers Ned’s secret, he entices cash-needy Ned to help him solve murder cases, collecting big reward fees by raising the dead to have them name their killer.
With a beguiling assist from narrator Jim Dale, the voice of the “Harry Potter” audio books, the show weaves the odyssey of Ned and childhood sweetheart (Anna Friel), who is murdered on a cruise ship.
But after bringing her back to life to ID her killer, Ned can’t muster the nerve to send her back. He’s fallen hopelessly in love with a woman he can never touch again.
“We’re going to have a lot of fun with Saran Wrap kisses,” says Fuller. “We’re going to see them dancing in beekeeper suits. We’re going to go a long way in doing everything we can to get them to touch each other that’s not flesh-to-flesh. And I think if the show will end - hopefully, it will never end - but if it does end, it will probably end with a kiss.”
McPherson well knows there is no sure thing. And “Pushing Daisies” has an unconventional premise that some may find off-putting.
“I can understand how some people can go, `Wow, that is just so different. Is that going to work?’ And I respect that. But the episodic nature of it is so clear, there’s a whodunit each week.”
And that whodunit hook is what will have viewers returning, McPherson hopes, that and the show’s freshness.
“The tone of the show is that tricky balance between sweetness and a little bit of darkness, but darkness not in any way that is too morbid or depressing,” says Fuller. “The show is a fun show ... so all of our procedurals are going to have that fun infused with them.”
Each week’s whodunit, adds Fuller, will be punctuated with lightness and levity.
“So when we do have murders,” concludes Fuller, “they skew a little bit more `Beetlejuice’ than `CSI.’”
Now all that remains is for “Pushing Daisies” to live up to the buzz.