Fringe: Showrunners Talk The End Of All Things!

Pinkner & Wyman

For diehard Fringe [Fox, Fridays, 9/8C] fans, things are getting pretty intense as season four heads into its second half. This week’s episode, The End of All Things finds Peter inside an Observer’s mind and that’s not even its strangest bit.

Yesterday, Fringe showrunners Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman spoke with a group of journalists/bloggers about the ep – and teased a Nina-centric ep.

Hi. Thanks guys so much for talking to talk to us. I’m a huge fan. I’m really hoping for another season. So you guys have, obviously, at least four universes going on at any one time. Do you film them separate? I mean, is it confusing? How does that work for you guys and the actors trying to keep everything straight?

J.H. Wyman: This is Joel talking and Jeff can jump in. I think that that’s actually funny. The characters and actors are so, sort of, in tuned with what they’re doing that the minute that they get an opportunity to play in one universe or the other or one time or the other, they jump at it. So this is a huge deal for them.

We don’t really have to talk to them much. They’re so great. They know exactly where they are. What their characters are doing. Where they’re coming from. What version of the characters they’re playing which is a … to the talent and their ability.

But for us, Jeff and I, no, we don’t get confused. We don’t shoot them separately. We shoot them as they come up and as we write them. They’re sort of like, ‘Hey, okay. We’re in this universe or this week.’ It seems to be very clear to us. But I’m sure it’s not clear to everybody else.

Yes. We’re still confused.

Wyman: Don’t worry. It will be clear.

Okay. Great. How important do you think–

Jeff Pinkner: This is Jeff, if I could jump in for a second. What’s actually amazing though is after a couple of years of living with these characters and writing these characters and talking about these characters, we and the writers as we sit in the writers room and break episodes or whatever, it strikes you every once in awhile that you’re talking about a character that’s played by the same actor who you’ve been talking about forever.

For instances and …. But we talked about like the character dying or something, you get emotional and then you realize, oh but wait, the actor is still on the show.

Alright. How important do you think social networking is to the success and especially with the new Fringinuity in Twitter and GetGlue campaigns and everything?

Pinkner: I think we all operate now in a world that is so different than it was even two or three years ago. The fans have access to the show and access to the creators even if it’s not direct. I don’t know any television creators that don’t follow the message boards. Just the feedback is so immediate to see what is working and what isn’t working and what’s working better than you anticipated.

Then there’s such a temptation to just constantly write things that are going to make the fans happy. You know, constantly just want to satisfy the fans and not sort of stay true to whatever the vision was of–oh, sometimes it takes a little bit of unhappiness to make those happy payoffs work better. That’s something that is fascinating to us and has really changed the way that stories are told I think.

Wyman: Yes. You get an immediate reaction. Jeff is right. I think, Twitter for us is important because we have incredible fans that are always fighting for us and trying to spread the word and so devoted. For us, that’s why we do it. So to hear them and to like see the responses instantaneously it’s really amazing because you get to see, like Jeff said, what’s working and what’s not.

But I feel really close to the fans because we have dialogues with them on Twitter. I think they feel closer to us and I don’t think that was possible several years ago. Nobody kind of felt connected to the show. I think our fans are really connected to the show in a deep way not just because they’re fans, but because we interact with them.

It’s a really strong episode tomorrow night. I’m curious, what about The End of All Things were you most excited, what story were you most excited to tell to share with viewers tomorrow night?

Pinkner: Well, I don’t think we would play favorites in the stories we’re telling. It’s sort of like the episode was designed to tell a few things that all interacted, and the story between Olivia and Nina and any time Jared Harris as David Robert Jones is on the screen is just fantastic. And allowing Michael Cerveris as our Observer to, sort of, like peel back some layers and reveal some truths about what his agenda has been and to really use that as an opportunity to revisit the things we’ve done before in the show. All of it was really fun and exciting for us.

Yes that’s what I was wondering, if the Observer intel was something you’ve been wanting to let loose with for awhile now?

Wyman: Well that’s an interesting point because we always said that you’ll find out about the Observer this season and that we’re going to investigate them a lot more. So we’re excited about it all because that’s a highlight–the observers are a highlight. It’s just–for us to kind of constantly break what you think you know, and sort of reset, and have to go, "Wow, I didn’t see that coming." That’s kind of why we get up in the morning. It’s to, sort of, like take people on for the ride. So we’re excited about what’s coming up too for people.


So, it’s been another stellar season and I hate to have to ask. But what have the conversations been lately with Fox and what are you guys hearing about for next season?

Wyman: Obviously that’s a big question. We get that every year. This is the God-honest truth. We, Jeff and I, just do what we do. You have no control. We didn’t have control last year, the year before either, and the year before. So we can only do what we do and that’s make the show that we love, continue to follow the path, the stories that we want to tell, great compelling stories, week to week that interests our fans and really hope for the best.

I think that any show that doesn’t have huge ratings that’s kind of what you’re always up against. Meanwhile, conversations are ongoing. Everything is running the way that things usually run in these types of situations. I guess, we’ll find out like everybody else. But we don’t fret about it because, really, it’s out of our control. We can only step back and do our work and therein lies the past serenity. So we’re hoping for the best and just doing what we love.

Pinkner: One of my favorite stories when I was a kid was The Little Engine That Could. So I think we’re the little engine that could constantly. You know, I think I can, I think I can. We’re always struggling, and struggling, and struggling, and hoping, and hoping, and hoping. We just keep making the shows that we love and the good news is we can never rest on our laurels of just like knowing we’re going to be on forever. So we’re constantly challenged to write the very best story we can week in and week out hoping that that will just allow us to keep telling more of them.

Wyman: Yes. I mean, it’s a strange thing. It’s a sci-fi show on network television and everybody knows that that in itself is an amazing feat that we’ve been on for so many years. It’s like, you guys, the press and everything has been so incredibly kind and so incredibly supportive that we feel like it’s a success in any way, shape or form.

It’s an expensive canvas, everybody knows it. To do what we do every week it costs a lot of money and you have to have a return on it. That’s show business and you’ve got to do it. We just hope that the dollars and cents can make sense and we can continue doing it. But if this was the last season, at least I’ll speak for myself and Jeff can comment on it. If this is the last season I would feel, obviously, incredibly sad because I know how much of the story that we have left to tell and that we would love to tell.

But in the same breath I kind of feel like I would feel that I could take care of the fans. That’s the most important to us that we feel like we have an ending that would leave people feeling like, wow, I feel sad but satiated. I feel like that was definitely worth my four years of investment. I really love these characters and I can see where it would have gone. But I feel good.

That’s all we’re concerned about is to make sure that the fans don’t feel like, wait, what? What happened? I’ve invested four years of my life and I don’t get any kind of resolution that makes sense. That’s not what’s going on. And to be 100% frank, our partners at Fox would never want to consciously allow that to happen. So everybody knows that Jeff and I are very prepared. We’re ready for anything. Hopefully we go on. But it’s out of our control.

With shows like Fringe, Alcatraz, Terra Nova all having a tough time in the ratings. How do you guys see the state of sci-fi on TV today and how it can survive in the future?

Wyman: Well, … said the last answer. You’re right. It’s the strangest thing. Jeff always says, it’s kind of a funny point. He says that, you know, in the cinema everybody goes to sci-fi. They’re like the biggest movies and in television nobody wants to touch it with a barge pole. It’s strange. I think it’s because maybe there’s a legacy of television shows that sort of felt a certain way or depicted sci-fi in a certain way that turns off a lot of viewers. And maybe there’s a negative connotation.

What was so great about Lost is that it sort of came to the front door as a drama that was straight up and really gave you these sci-fi underneath it all. So it backed into sci-fi show, at least in my opinion. So people were like, as soon as they got hooked, they were like, okay, I’m there. But the minute you show it’s about this, it’s about strange science, things out of control, it takes an investment. I think that in the future when people start to realize that sci-fi is probably one of the only genres. I actually love the genre because it allows you to tell such human stories.

I think once people start to realize the consistency of quality that is coming, and maybe not getting recognized at the moment and then in retrospect we’ll be recognized. But they’ll start to sort of open up their minds a little more, saying like, ‘Wow this is great. I’m going to tune into this.’ It’s not just for the geeks and the people that are into it. It’s actually really fascinating. That’s my take on it. What do you think?

What do I think?

Wyman: Yes.

I think it’s great, man. I think that, you know, I’ve been at it a long time. I just think that it’s often a tough sell like … and throughout the years. It’s sad because I think a lot of people want that accessibility but yet they’re missing the boat. They can’t see the forest through the trees.

Wyman: Yes.

There’s some online talk about Charlie Francis returning. Can you guys touch on that?

Pinkner: I think that we have been in talks with Kirk about coming back. As we’ve said before there is nobody ever really dies on Fringe or so it would seem. But there’s no, hey tune in on x and such week to see him. There’s nothing definitive yet.


This season we’ve had some really great singular cases and kind of just stand alone episodes. But I feel like this episode that we’re going to see tomorrow really, like you’ve kind of teased before, is mythology heavy and really speaks to the larger arc this season. So what can you say about how it’s going to affect what we see in the next couple of months in the final stretch here?

Pinkner: Well it’s definitely, as they say, a game changer in that our characters learn a lot more and the audience is going to learn a lot more about sort of the Uber plot of our season, our season bad guy David Robert Jones. The character … certainly for Peter this season and Olivia and Walter is going to start to unfold in ways that, hopefully, will be really both satisfying and challenging to our characters. It’s sort of like, the 14th out of 21 or 22 episodes and it’s very much a hinge episode that’s going to launch us into the back half of the season.

If we make it after crying our eyes out at the end of the episode. Alright. Thanks guys.

Pinkner: I’m going to take it that you’ve seen it?

Yes. I’m just recovering.

Pinkner: Great. Thanks so much.

So I wanted to ask Joel about directing. You’re doing the first episode back from the winter break. So just tell me a little bit about that process and you getting to do that this season. In particular, did you want to do that one particular episode or is it just how you came up into the rotation?

Wyman: Thanks. Yes, well, first of all it was the most incredible experience. You know, directing, when you run a television show it’s kind of like it’s something that not many people actually get the time to do because you’re so consumed with everything that’s going on. You can’t just disappear.

So fortunately, I have an amazing partner that allows us to do these different things who will be directing an episode himself soon I’m sure. But it’s amazing. I love directing and I think that it allowed me to get closer to the actors and actually work with them on a level that I haven’t before and really get down there with them. I would jump at the chance to do it anytime I could.

The episode, itself, was something that was not in the rotation. I was supposed to direct a couple of episodes last year and just time didn’t permit. If I can’t go away then I can’t go away and somebody else has to step in. So that’s sort of what happened last year. This year, the same thing happened at the beginning of the season I was going to do one. But work just put an end to that. So I couldn’t do it.

But then one was coming up that we were thinking about writing and I really felt close to it. The opportunity came up where somebody had fallen out and I felt that this is the perfect time because everything was completely under control. It allowed me to go and do it. But it is. It’s an episode that’s really close to me. It’s about love and it’s about all the great things that we talk about on Fringe.

To us, Jeff and I, it’s kind of like a perfect version of what a Fringe show is because it has a great terrifying element to it which is very fringy. On the other hand it has this incredible love story aspect and things that people are going to be really, really excited for, we believe, as far as the relationships in the show. So it was an honor to do it and it was just incredible. It turned out really well. We love it. It was just an incredible experience.

Is there a chance, Jeff, that you’ll be able to do an episode before the end of this season or is it just–I know you guys are in the last 9 and a hard time to break away.

Pinkner: It’s unlikely that I will do one this season. But I look forward to doing it next season. And I can tell you that Joel did a spectacular job and I have a lot to live up to.

I just want to make sure I’m set on the specifics. This is the 14th episode, Friday. The show will have about a month break and then you’ll have eight more episodes this season, is that right?

Wyman: That’s right. I messed up earlier. It’s 22 episodes.


Wyman: I was trying to say it’s two-thirds of the way. But it’s not exactly two-thirds.

Okay. I just had two questions about the timing then. One is, did you know that this was a break point here because it works out really well that you have a pivotal episode. It works right up to the break to get people excited to come back a month later. So were you able to plan it that way? And second of all, when you refer to the fact that if the season ends and there isn’t a fifth season people will be satisfied. Is that because you’ve already written the final episode of this season or because you’ve already shot it or what’s the deal with the final episode?

Pinkner: Well taking your first question first, in fact we did not know that this was going to be a break. We thought that the break was going to come after the next episode which also is a wonderful episode to take a break on. We’re sort of in a zone of episodes right now where each one is pretty amazing. Each one either turns the story or resolves something important or leaves a cliffhanger.

So the several episodes, each is pretty awesome in itself and also is very important to the overall patchwork of the season. We are very happy that this ended up being one before we went on a little break. But I think the fans are going to be very well satisfied to come back and watch the next one as well.

As far as the finale, no, we have not written it. In fact, we are talking about it sort of specifically as soon as we get off this phone call. But we do know what it is. We’ve known the shape of our season before we started. … there was … this year before we even started this year.

And that’s one that you were referring to that will be satisfied if there isn’t a season five, it’ll feel like a pretty good finale?

Wyman: Oh, yes. I mean, fortunately, at the end of every season we sort of close the chapter and start a new. That’s the sort of the language of the series now. So it just sort of organically can come to a conclusion that we love.


I was wondering where you were talking earlier about ratings and science fiction and all of that. Do you think that part of the reason the ratings have gone down this season is being opposite Supernatural and Grimm?

Wyman: I don’t know. Honestly, because if you look at the DVR numbers, Friday night is a tricky spot. I truly believe that there needs to be some new way of measuring who’s watching what and some way. Because I feel like there’s satellites that can see a Levi’s tab on the back of your jeans but they can’t tell you who’s watching which television show. I’m a little suspicious.

But, look, the truth is that people–it’s changed. Times have changed. People, it’s busy. People have hard lives. They’re making it work. They’re coming home from work. They’re telling us when they want to watch the show because the DVRs, they go up like crazy. I mean, 80% is nuts.

So they’re watching. They’re just not watching on Friday. You know, those other shows that you mentioned are great. I don’t know that their ratings have gone up so much that it would be like they’re taking viewers or anything. I just think that, in general, people are–there’s only the people who have the Nielsen boxes and if they’re not watching live or they’re not watching it, you’re done.

It has nothing to do with what the mass is because when the big numbers come out on DVRs you understand there are a lot of people watching the program, just not on Friday nights. So they’re dictating to us, well, another time. I don’t want to watch it right now. I want to watch it tomorrow morning or I want to watch it on Saturday night with my girlfriend or I don’t know.

Pinkner: There are TV producers, we can tell you how they experience it. They spend a lot of time analyzing numbers and analyzing the competition and sort of knocking on the doors of the people that work at the studio and saying, ‘Change our night. Change our time. Don’t you see what you’re doing to us by having us on …?’

We don’t do that. Our approach has always been, and maybe to our detriment, but our approach has always been that the best thing that we can do for our show is to write the best show possible. So as Joel said earlier, we sort of leave these questions and these issues that we can’t control to people who can and we just write the best version of Fringe we know how. The one that satisfies us. The one that makes us excited to go into work everyday. The one that makes us feel something. We’ve been really, really gratified that the people that watch the show respond to it in the way that they do. Beyond that, we just sort of leave it to the gods.

I was curious, we’ve got some hints tomorrow. But how soon is it going to become evident exactly what David Robert Jones’ Uber plan is specifically and how Olivia fits into it? Is she kind of his Desmond…? Is she a distinct key that he needs?

Wyman: Spoiler alert! We can’t–we’re restricted a little bit, right? Obviously, we can’t tell anything. But I think that David Robert Jones, just remember that on Fringe we try to make like nothing is as it seems. That there’s always a little more to the story behind the story. He’s definitely a large part going forward. I think a lot of things will come full circle. But you’ll be like, oh, wow. And again, I hate to use the word but recontextualize a lot of things that you’ve already seen.

With Peter accepting Walter’s hypothesis about how he is somehow transforming this Olivia into his Olivia, he seems to have discarded the thought that she has independent memories that he could not have created – like the Semtex thing a couple of weeks ago. So using that plot point as the reference, I’m kind of wondering, what do you see fans debating? How do they react to, oh, that’s an error in continuity? Do they talk about it? Do they really turn it over and does any of that ever influence the way you think about your own writing?

Wyman: Does the part about the fan debate influence our writing?

Do they spark thoughts? Do they make you think of other things when you see stuff like that happening and see how into it the fans get?

Pinkner: Well, to take that part of the question first. As you of course know, by the time we see feedback on any individual episode we have written and filmed several episodes ahead, TV show …. We don’t have the ability to change our story telling on a dime. It’s very much like trying to steer a cruise ship. The reaction time is delayed.

Having said that, we’re well aware of how intelligent our audience is. We’re well aware that, sort of, Fringe is a show that you really need to lean forward to, into and pay attention to and think about. It’s not designed to be a show that you can watch while you’re folding laundry. So we’re well aware of the questions that our audience is inevitably going to ask. We’re well aware of how carefully they watch the show and hold us to continuity. We’re certainly aware of the debates that are going to occur.

Our audience holds us to an incredibly high standard of continuity and authenticity and emotional authenticity. We don’t toy with that but being aware of that we oftentimes will write stories in order to spark debate. But we’re very determined to always give the answer. We don’t want to leave a lot of things open to debate at the end of the day. Does that make sense?

That is exactly what I was hoping for. And may I just say, I love the double blind with Nina in this week’s episode. That was brilliant.

Wyman: Thank you.

I’m just wondering, how much is Nina going to play? What kind of role is she going to play going forward because she’s been through a trauma that’s as bad now as anything Olivia’s been through?

Pinkner: Tune in next week. You’re going to get a–I think you’re going to enjoy it a lot.

Wyman: You know, it’s funny ‘cause people have always been, since season one, they have always been saying, ‘Nina is such a great character. We’ve got to give her something that’s kind of cool and show her’ because you know she’s an incredible actress. Dare I say, so much more capable of the things that we’re capable of giving her to do on the show just by the constraints of character’s amount of screen time. You know what I mean?

So we’re always looking for something very special for her and we just wanted it to be right. We didn’t want to just sort of give her an episode that was kind of, oh, this is the Nina-centric episode. We wanted to make sure that you actually could watch a tour de force and allow her to do the things she does so well and have it be worthy of her ability. So we feel like I think that’s where we are right now. You’re going to see some stuff that you’ll be pretty blown away, I think.

Pinkner: And we’ll reveal something to you and whoever’s left still hanging on for the rest of this phone call. That is we have a lot of fun with the names of our alternate versions of our characters, Walternate for example. It was Blair who named her alternate version. Meana which is kind of ….

Excellent. Excellent. Thank you so much.

Wyman: Thank you for calling.

Pinkner: We really appreciate it.

Photos courtesy of Fox Television