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Creator of 'Lost' finds new mission in 'Fringe'

Maureen Ryan
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - It might be easier to say what "Fringe" isn't, rather than try to define what it is.

The Fox show, which debuts Sept. 9, isn't "Lost." It isn't "Alias." According to its creative team, most of whom have worked on one or both of those shows, "Fringe" isn't a show that requires you to see every episode to understand what is going on.

At a Monday Q&A session on "Fringe" at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, J.J. Abrams, one of the show's co-creators, recalled watching an "Alias" episode late in that show's run.

"I watched a few minutes, and I was so confused," said Abrams, who also created the ABC series. "It was impenetrable. I was like, 'I know I should understand this. I read the (script) - who the (expletive) is that guy?'"

Abrams doesn't want "Fringe," which is one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the fall, to be like that. Abrams called it "an experiment for us," and added that the plan was to create a show with "an ultimate story that's being told, but also a show that you don't have to watch Episodes 1, 2 and 3 to tune in to Episode 4."

Abrams and the show's other producers referenced "Altered States," "The X-Files" and the works of Michael Crichton when describing their new show; Abrams described it as inhabiting "that weird place where medicine and science meets real life."

The pilot, which critics finally got to see Sunday night at a TCA screening, does start with a plane crash, but it's not necessarily going to be another "Lost," said "Fringe" executive producer Jeff Pinkner, a veteran of that ABC show, in an interview after the session.

"Our intent is that every episode will have a beginning, a middle and end in a very stand-alone-type fashion, and simultaneously, (within each episode,) we will be telling a much larger story throughout."

The "Fringe" creators do intend to revisit the show's ongoing "mythology," much of which concerns a mysterious technology company called Massive Dynamic, but "in such a fashion that you can drop in" and not have seen every episode of the show, Pinkner said.

The powerful and successful Massive Dynamic was founded by a scientific researcher, William Bell, who used to share a lab with one of "Fringe's" main characters, Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble). As the pilot begins, Bishop has been in a mental institution for 17 years.

With the reluctant help of Bishop's son, Peter (Joshua Jackson), government investigator Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) gets Walter out of the hospital and enlists his help as she investigates various strange phenomena.

As executive producer Bryan Burk put it in an interview, "Fringe" focuses on investigations of those who may be using science and cutting-edge technology for nefarious ends.

"I keep saying, somewhere in the world, someone may have one of your hairs, and in a garage, and they're cloning you. And who's doing that?" Burk said. "People who have the ability to do these things are not necessarily coming from benevolent backgrounds."

"Fringe's" pilot cost $10 million, and the show will have nine days to shoot an episode, instead of the typical seven or eight. It will also have 50 minutes of content each week - Fox is experimenting with fewer commercials in an attempt to see if that will attract more viewers.

"We have no excuses," Orci said. "The attention that the show is getting, we can't hide behind, 'Oh, they didn't promote it. Nobody knew about it.' It's no one but us. It's our fault if it doesn't work."


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