Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman have, in Fringe [Fox, Friday, 10/9C], created a series that looks at alternate worlds in a way is fresh for TV. As the fourth season comes to a conclusion, news has come that the low-rated series has been given a thirteen episode order for a fifth and final season to wrap up the story in an appropriate fashion.
Last week, I took part in a conference call with Pinkner and Wyman as they talked about the conclusion of season four and whether a fifth season of thirteen episodes would be enough for them to conclude their story properly. Note that the call took place before last week’s episode, which featured the return of Leonard Nimoy as William Bell.
J. H. [Joel] Wyman: Hello, everybody. Thank you so much for coming.
Jeff Pinkner: That was Joel speaking, for the record. This is Jeff. As always, we are so entirely indebted to each and every one of you. We have publicly and now privately on the phone want to make it clear that we know the pickup of this show in season five is largely due to all of you and your support, so thank you very much.
I’m curious—between who we saw there in the amber in episode 19, what Joshua has said about episode 19 in forming season five, and what’s in the promos right now with Walter saying, ‘He’s alive!’ are you going to have to bring back Leonard Nimoy as William Bell?
Pinkner: We basically erected a sign outside of Leonard’s house which said, ‘Please come back to Fringe,’ and we are hoping that by season five he says yes.
So you’re not writing yourselves into a little bit of a corner here if you need the character?
Wyman: No, because I think that once you realize the extent of everything, that will probably all become clear, why we’re not. I know it’s hard to say, Matt. We don’t want to spoil too much.
As a follow up, I was curious. John Noble spoke of shooting an alternate ending in case you didn’t get the season five pickup. Is that something people might get to see on the DVD release for season four?
Wyman: No, we did not shoot an alternate ending. We did not. We thought about it, but we did not.
We asked all of our listeners for questions for today’s call and we got this question more than any other. That is, ‘Are we done with the Redverse? Are we going to see the Redverse again?’ In particular, ‘Now that [the Redverse Lincoln] is dead, what is Seth Gable’s position on the show if we don’t see the Redverse again?’
Pinkner: As always, we are really, really devoted to everybody and the people asking those questions, but we sort of have a no spoilers policy because we’re just of the mind that the entertainment value of watching the stories unfold is diminished if you already know what’s coming. We love all those characters from the Redverse. The door is closed because of the problems that David Robert Jones is causing, so if our team can somehow dispense with Jones, there’s absolutely a possibility of that door being opened again. We can’t definitively say anything.
Seth is spectacular and awesome and has been such a phenomenal addition to the cast, but as far as his standing going forward, to say anything about that would also be to reveal things that are coming ahead.
Wyman: Like we’ve always said, nobody’s ever really dead on Fringe.
What about the year 2036? Do you think we’ll be seeing any more of that either this season or in season five?
Wyman: Yes, I think it’s safe to say you will.
One important figure who hasn’t really been seen … on Fringe is Sam Weiss. Is there any plan to … back in as you get towards the end of the series?
Wyman: There are no plans right now. We loved him as a character and he did such a great job for us. We know a lot of people are huge fans of his. I think that in this moment he served his purpose.
Cool. Speaking of these last 13 episodes, you guys have been very vocal about having ending plans, having where you want to go mapped out. Have you given any thought as to how these final 13 will play out so far or are you … of season four?
Wyman: Going down the road, the way that traditionally, as we finish the chapter, close it, and then start a new one, we definitely know. When we’re thinking about the end of the season we’re always thinking about the beginning of the next one and where that’s going to take us and what kind of doors it can open. That’s basically how it’s been since the get-go, and it’s no different this year. We definitely know where the series is going to end and how it’s going to end and what we’re saying with the final season.
Ever since Ari Margolis’ wonderful movie trailer appeared this week I keep thinking about George Morales’ words to Olivia in the dreamscape when he said, ‘Massive Dynamic is hell and its founder, William Bell, is the devil.’ Is it possible that David Robert Jones is not the penultimate bad guy here, that there’s someone higher on the baddie food chain, possibly like William Bell or someone else? Could you comment on that?
Wyman: That’s interesting. No bad guy really thinks that they’re a bad guy. Jones is a pretty good bad guy. Are you saying you want more?
Well, he is a great bad guy, but I don’t know. There’s just something, for me at least, ringing that there’s more to it.
Pinkner: What’s been fun for us—and sorry to not answer your question, we will in a second—is there have been two David Robert Jones’s on our show, Jared Harris and both largely the same person almost in every way, existing in two different timelines—but even he has a doppelganger because it’s so incredibly fun to watch the … and see Jared Harris portray this character that for all intents and purposes could be a doppelganger in a much different alternate universe to David Robert Jones. Jared is just spectacular. In the world of is there another bad guy who is pulling his strings or above him, I think we’d be wrong to say anything other than just David Robert Jones … he’s pretty compelling and he’s pretty—nefarious is probably too loaded of a word. He’s definitely a suitable opponent for our team. It’s taken all of them to deal with him.
Wyman: The ground will shift a little bit and you’ll understand him a little bit deeper.
Also on follow up, I know it’s early in the game for season five, but are there any plans for Jeff to direct an episode in season five?
Pinkner: There are always plans afoot, and yes, thank you for that, that’s awesome. Yes, I think it’s a little early for us to worry about that right now.
It seems we’re always talking about symmetry in Fringe. If we have Joel, it seems like we need to have you direct an episode. Keep it in mind, please.
Pinkner: Can we just point out what a good job Joel did?
Wyman: That’s sweet. I was just going to give you a complement and say even if he didn’t, I would have been great.
Pinkner: Thank you. No, but Joel did a spectacular job and I think we’d be well served if Joel directed all 13 episodes in season five. We’ve been really, really fortunate, I think, in we’ve identified directors who have brought so much to the show. When we sit in the editing room we’re so excited by the material we get back in from Brad Anderson to—I’m going to … his last name, it’s … Charles Ethan and …. We have the most talented, stable of directors. Of course, Joe Chappelle, who directed Letters of Transit, in both parts of the season finale and under extreme duress. We were sort of feeding him pages as he was shooting them. They’re amazing.
Again, I would love to see you direct, Jeff, if you can do it. I think all the fans would love to see that.
Pinkner: Did you talk to my mom right before this phone call?
No, but maybe we should contact her for extra support. Guys, thanks for your time. Thank you for Tweeting, Joel. Maybe we can get Jeff on Twitter. That would be another big goal.
Pinkner: I’ve been on Twitter. I’m just more afraid of it than Joel is.
I hear you’re going to be on again this Friday. I saw something across Twitter today that you both are going to live Tweet. Is that true?
Wyman: We always do our best.
How instrumental would you say is it for the fan social media—getting on social media and talking about the show—to getting your fifth season?
Wyman: Massive. It was massive. This is actually a really cool time, I think, in television history, or it will be considered a cool time, where social networks are informing the big networks, like people are talking, people are doing things, people are moving. They go into action for their show, which is great. Before, it used to be like, ‘Well, we’re going to send a whole bunch of letters,’ which is okay, but it’s not this. What this is, what’s going on now, is really empowering for the fans because they feel that they have a platform and a forum to really express to people who may or may not be listening, but the chances are that they are, to express their deep gratitude and love of the show, their support.
Our fans are so incredible that they were calling the sponsors saying, ‘Hey, I don’t watch it live because I have a job, but you know what? Here’s the thing—I love the show and watch it on DVR. I’m going to buy your product. You must have good taste because you guys are supporting Fringe.’
It was huge for us. I mean, it was a whole movement. Honestly, there’s not a moment where I don’t think how lucky we are to have such incredible fans.
Pinkner: I think it is absolutely fair to say that without the support of the fans and social media there would be no season five.
You guys sort of see this as a blessing … this many episodes to tell the story so you can pace it out?
Wyman: Yes. Like I said, we know the end. It’s a perfect amount of time to be done right and to be doled out in the right pace. We feel really confident that we can have a satisfying ending for us but also, of course, for our fans and supporters within the timeframe of 13 episodes. I think that’s really what we were hoping for. Fox is so great to deliver and continues to demonstrate their incredible support. So yes, we are very content.
What can you tell us at this point about next season as far as how it relates to Letters of Transit? It seems to me, of course, that there’s story to tell that proceeds that episode and story to tell that comes after that episode.
Pinkner: Right. We can tell you nothing.
Wyman: It’s hard, Matt, because part of our storytelling has always been revealed and recontextualizing what you think you know and what you’ve seen and putting it into a different mindframe for the viewer. Let’s just say that that future is important to our storytelling, but it’s not the be all and end all; there is a reason.
Like, somebody asked us a really cool question the other day—how did we decide to do flashbacks or flash-forwards or whatever? For us, we can honestly say there’s always a reason. There’s always a reason to do it. We’re going to go into the past because we have to put you in that headspace so you can understand this … and figure out where the character is coming from or has been in order for you to get the full experience of what you’re watching today in the present.
That’s how we feel about the Letters of Transit. It was for a reason. Nineteen is traditionally the one that we go off the beaten path, and that was no different. It was definitely off the beaten path. Does it have further implications? It does. You’re going to definitely need to understand what Letters of Transit is or was in order to fully grasp all … things we like to tell this year.
I was wondering if you could just tell us a personal story about renewal, like where you were, what you expected, and when you guys found out?
Pinkner: When we found out about season five, is that what you mean?
Pinkner: That’s really good. Joel?
Wyman: I was actually getting a guitar fixed. I got a call and it was all these very happy voices. It was such an incredible call because it just came out of nowhere. It was really music to my ears. It was like we were hoping for the best but we really did not know anything. A lot of people were speculating that we did know or that it was a done deal, and a lot of people said it was all business, which really isn’t the case, either.
So we just sort of took a couple days off, literally, right, Jeff? It was a couple days.
Pinkner: By the way, did you guys hear how Joel, the writer, did that? He said he was dropping off his guitar to get fixed and that it was music to his ears.
Wyman: Only you would notice that.
Pinkner: Of course.
Pinkner: I had just dropped my kids off at school. I was walking back to my car and we got a phone call. We were asked to hold for both the studio and the network, which you instantly realize that they’re not all calling to deliver bad news; they’re calling to deliver good news. Graciously, they told us, the two of us simultaneously as well as telling Bad Robot. We were all overjoyed and then they said, ‘Please don’t tell anybody because we have a plan to announce this to the world.’ Joel said, ‘Well, we have a dedicated, loyal Twitter following and [we’d really like to] tell them.’ They said, ‘Okay, give us a second and then we’ll tell you when you can tell everybody.’ Then the day went on a lot before they … before everybody got their act together. We had this really awesome secret for a little while.
How long before the actual official announcement did you guys find out?
Wyman: It was hours.
Pinkner: Yes, it was four hours, I think.
Wyman: You have to let everybody do their job. They had some great ideas to how they would like to release the information and we wanted to be supportive of that while at the same time, like Jeff had mentioned, being loyal to our fans and being the first to Twitter it, which was the case. The Twitter guys got it first.
So, it was just a matter of everybody sort of coordinating and saying, ‘Let’s figure out the best way to give everybody this good news.’ Like Jeff said, it was very happy. It was like you had a secret, like I want to tell everybody but I can’t.
So someone who was making that trailer for season five knew before you guys did?
Wyman: No, I think the way it worked, I mean, look, people plan for success and failure. That’s just the prudent thing to do. I think that everybody was feeling really good about it. Like I said, and I’ve said it a million times, these guys in the building at Fox and at Warner Brothers are so supportive of the program and every step of the way they have done exactly what they are going to say. I know that’s probably an anomaly because business changes. Sometimes shows get bad ratings and then they stay on, and sometimes they get okay ratings and then they’re cancelled. Then two years later a show that has worse ratings than that show stays on the air. It’s a very strange, non-specific—I don’t even know the rules. Do you, Jeff? I don’t know.
Pinkner: No, but to answer your question specifically, you buy an engagement ring hoping she says yes, you know? So the trailer was made in hopes, as Joel said. The internal support at Fox is astronomical. As they said to us, the support outweighs any expectation. Like, a show that, quite frankly, performs like we do, usually people at the network are all running away from it, whereas with us, everyone recognizes, I think, to toot our own horn for one second, the merit and the value on what we’re doing. They really love the storytelling and have been insanely supportive from the top down from the beginning.
I think that they made this trailer in hopes of a pickup, but of course the people charged with doing that kind of work are nowhere near, ultimately, the decision makers. The decision makers made the decision and informed us. Part of that time going by was getting the trailer ready to go online, etc.
Since you do have the 13 episodes to finish out how you’d like to, you’ve talked before and you’ve produced comic books. The world is so rich, I know you are just enjoying right now that you get to start writing the last season, but have you thought or have there been talk about creating alternate media ways to keep the mythology going, whether it’s comic books or in some other ways that you have thought about keeping the world alive after the show finishes?
Wyman: That’s cool. You know—
Pinkner: We thought about a traveling Fringe baseball game, that we’ll travel around the country and there’ll be a red team and a blue team and it’ll be populated by identical twins, but it’s a little tough to get off the ground.
Wyman: Personally, I was responsible, and maybe not in the best way, because I was at WonderCon or ComicCon. I said if there was no pickup we’re definitely going to try to finish off the stories by hook or by crook. It’d have to be comic books that will actually try to give some closure to the fans.
We meant it at the time. I think now that we have the 13, that’s not a far out idea. I love comics, and Jeff does, too. I think if there was a significant story where we were like, ‘You know what? I think people really want to know more about this aspect of the show that really wasn’t maybe covered 100% and they’re really interested,’ then yes, that would be something that we would consider, I’m sure.
Pinkner: I’m sure you’re aware, Tara, there’s a Fringe comic book that will continue. Josh … wrote an awesome arc in the book this season and if we’re fortunate enough, if DC will continue to partner with us, that will continue to come out. There are still stories to tell that are outside the universe of the TV show, but I don’t know that we have plans to—baseball joke aside, I don’t know, please nobody take that seriously, unless you can make it happen, in which case definitely take it seriously—aside from things that are already in the works, some of which are still kind of secret, some which you may know about. I think largely, as Joel said, the TV show will tell the story.
Wyman: The idea of a couple of very specific gold cover special editions may find their way.
Going back to the fact that you thought that 13 was a nice number, were you sort of hoping not for the full season because you’d put so many storylines in play to get to the end game just in case this season was the end game? Was 13 just enough to get where you want to go?
Wyman: Yes. We’re always hoping for the best, and you have to plan for the worst. A lot of the greatest things that people have loved about the program have come from ideas that we had had that sort of snowballed and became something else and forced us to look at something else in a different way and realize, ‘Hey, that’s a really cool story stream. We should really give that a ….’
That said, and knowing that happens, when you’re telling 13, I’m sure there will be, and there are, things that we’ve discovered where, ‘That could be really cool.’ If we had 22, we could really take advantage of that, but the truth is that we could only operate on what we have. We were hoping at the minimum we would get 13 so we could tell our story and have ways to do that. If it was a 22 episode, we would have found ways to do that, too. I think that Fringe has come such a long way. We were just m ore concerned that we would have the ability to not have a couple of episodes to wrap something up but really an arc, like a real final season event.
As writers, when you look at the season, because you guys didn’t know you were going to get another season, obviously, until practically before we did, then you knew how you wanted the series to end. How did you approach this final season then, knowing that you might not get to tell that entire story?
Wyman: How did we approach this episode, you mean?
The season, the entire season, as you were developing it. As writers, how did you want to proceed? You fortunately got the other season, but you might not have.
Wyman: This is the analogy that I think that suits us the best. Imagine you’re on an airplane and you start to read a great novel and something that you’re really enjoying. You get through it, you get through it, and then there’s a whole other layover and you get to read four more chapters. You sort of get to the end of a chapter where there’s going to be a new beginning and you realize okay, now it’s time to get off the plane and you need to go about your business.
You’re stuck with that lost chapter and you feel like, okay, that was very satisfying, although I can understand that there’s another book. If I can get my hands on that other book in the next 15 minutes, I swear I would read it. But I’ve just finished this version and while it’s complete, I still have a longing to understand the characters in a deeper fashion and to imagine where they’re going to go after this logical conclusion after I just read.
So that’s kind of how we look at the end of every season. That’s why we sort of felt like the inadvertent design of Fringe and how it became that ended up being a blessing. You’re sort of protected because you’re closing one chapter and then beginning another.
You’ll see in the finale it’s like okay, I can understand how the show can end, but I’m interested in going further. That’s sort of how we approach it. It’s like look, we close every single season with a chapter. When Peter disappeared, that could have been an ending. I mean, it would have been, ‘Whoa, wait—what is that? What happened?’ but it would have been an ending of sorts. Like okay, Peter had to sacrifice himself in order to save his family. Okay, I’m not happy about that but I understand it. Then you can imagine one day that they would meet again or something like that.
So we just finished the conclusion. We finished the season conclusion in a manner that we feel is authentic and real for that season and then we use that as a push-off point to go and tell another aspect of the story that we hope the people will be interested in.
Wyman: Thank you, everybody.
Pinkner: Thank you, everybody, so much.
Photos by Cate Cameron, Liane Hentscher and Michael Courtney/Courtesy of Fox Television