EMMYS: 'Fringe's Jeff Pinkner & Joel Wyman

Jeff Pinkner and Joel Wyman are more than just co-showrunners of the Fox science fiction hour Fringe. They’re also the gatekeepers of its genre-expanding premise that’s been described as a hybrid of The X-Files, Altered States, and The Twilight Zone. Despite being a critical darling through much of its first 3 seasons, however, the series has come up short with the TV Academy, generating only Emmy nominations in 2009 for special effects and 2010 for sound editing. Its stars Anna Torv, Josh Jackson and John Noble remain otherwise unrecognized from Emmy (though Noble just this week won a Critics’ Choice Television Award). Pinkner and Wyman spoke with Deadline TV Contributor Ray Richmond about the show’s distinct sensibility and its third season:

DEADLINE: How was the decision made to introduce to Fringe the premise of having the action alternate between parallel universes this past season?
JEFF PINKNER: One of the things we’d said to our studio and network partners from the beginning is, this is very much a series that has to move forward and keep changing in order to be successful. It’s an unfolding story as opposed to a condition. It isn’t about a hospital where bodies come through or a police precinct with suspects. We knew early on that the series and saga involved two universes. But it was important
to let it unfold relatively slowly, to have it open up to characters and viewers over time as opposed to the middle of season one. Because we knew it was a pretty heady concept.
JOEL WYMAN: In Jurassic Park, by the time you see the dinosaurs, you already were introduced to the idea of a fly stuck in amber. The table is set long before to you get to that place of wonder, so when you finally reach it you’ve accepted it as being real. We felt that was important to establish for Fringe as well, to first set up the desires and intentions of the characters and let the wonder of this world unfold in front of them before going full-on to that alternate universe.

DEADLINE: It’s always a big risk to change up your creative game when you’re already an established show. You were asking the audience to in essence accept utterly different personas for the same character.
WYMAN: We’re thrilled with how our fans have responded to it. But we were careful at the same time not to abandon any of our main characters. At the same time, we thought that if we were going to ask people to invest in these doppelganger characters, we’d best do it full-out as well, so viewers got to know them and spent enough time understanding their dilemmas.

DEADLINE: But your ratings numbers did slip from Season 2 to Season 3, going from a 2.8 with adults 18-49 to a 2.2. Of course, Fox also moved from Thursday to Friday nights midway through the season, which may have had something to do with it.
PINKNER: The numbers were of course a concern. The network and studio need to make money in order to keep us on the air. We get that. At the same time, we’ve never tried to design stories just to appeal to a larger audience. And the kind of storytelling we’re doing isn’t going to appeal to everyone no matter what we do?

DEADLINE: What kind of storytelling is that?
PINKNER: Well, basically humanistic science fiction. What we’ve discovered is, not everyone likes licorice but the ones who do really, really like it. That’s how our fans are, too. They followed us from Thursday to Friday night without a lot of drop-off, both live and on DVR.
WYMAN: But we understand we’re fighting very hard against the science fiction moniker. There’s a group of people who just say, ‘We’re not interested in that.’  We’re trying to work in metaphors and deliver a little bit of a movie each week, as well as finding deeper thematic elements than network TV normally tries to tackle.

DEADLINE: But was there any point during the past season when you had legitimate reason to worry that Fox might not renew?
PINKNER: You know, maybe out of naïvete, we weren’t that concerned that this would be the end of the journey for us. We did have an ending in place just in case. But we’re very fortunate to have legitimate fans at the network and the studio who are really upfront with us. They knew the story we were telling this past season and celebrated how bold we were trying to be on network television.

DEADLINE: How much does it bother you to always see the cable dramas getting awards hype while most network series don’t?
WYMAN: The truth is that we watch those shows, too. We find the work that’s going on in cable to be astounding. If the acclaim and promotion they’re getting makes us feel anything, it’s motivation to maybe pave some new ground for network television. And it’s tough to pull off. Network TV, in a lot of ways, doesn’t have the ability to tell the same kind of story as they do on cable. You’re fighting to draw in an audience whose life is often too busy to schedule any appoint TV. We’re just hoping that people say, ‘Hey, Fringe is doing something different and going deeper than network TV usually tries to go.’
PINKNER: If there’s any frustration at all, it’s that there’s clearly a different expectation when you try to tell a story over 22 episodes than when you’re doing 10, 11 or 13 episodes.

DEADLINE: And, again, there’s the whole stigma of the science fiction label that you consistently need to overcome.
WYMAN: And the frustration is that we feel like we’re so much more than science fiction. We’re doing things through the eye of Fringe that are altogether new. Rarely do you get to tell a story about a three-way love triangle where two of the three people are the same person, as we did this past season.

DEADLINE: In terms of next season, will you be keeping the parallel universes conceit going? And what’s going to become of Josh Jackson’s character Peter?
PINKNER: Well, Peter no longer exists. All we’ll say is that in Season 4, we’ll very much see the consequences of what happened in Seasons 1, 2 and 3. What happens to Peter remains a very big question. But a new chapter will unfold next season. As it does every year on this show.

  1. There seems to be a lot more chatter this year about FRINGE and the EMMYS than in past years. And, with John Noble winning the new Critics award, there’s (finally) some substance to add to the chatter. I would not be surprised if Anna Torv and John Noble were BOTH nominated for EMMYS in their respective drama categories. I’d be much more surprised if FRINGE was nominated as a drama series. But, anything is possible. Subsequently, I wouldn’t expect any of the FRINGE nominees to actually win. BUT, I think the nominations alone would hugely satisfy most of us fiercely devoted FRINGE fans.

  2. Face it: This IS a groundbreaking sci-fi series. It’s unfortunate that more people haven’t gotten it … but, hopefuly they will. Just tremendous acting all around and Noble is terrifically awesome … acting right off the charts. Interesting that they say they had an ending in place … just in case. You never know where this series is going to take you. Having tge character of Peter Bishop effectively erased, on the season ender was amazing. And, I lvoe the Observers. Terrific!
    Great show. If you haven’t gotten into it … your BIG loss!

  3. Agree with both of you. John and Anna have done an amazing job portraying two different characters. And with Anna I sometimes forget that it is the same actress playing those different characters.
    Just to be nominated would be awesome. It would be a foot in the door.
    Can’t wait for the season premiere in Sep.
    Fringe Rocks!

  4. I wish the DEADLINE TEAM would have asked Mr. Pinkner and Mr. Wyman direct questions about their take on this year’s Emmys.

  5. Agree about John Noble. He’s the reason to watch the show. Fox treats science fiction like a battered wife. I hope it lasts through the next season. Thankfully JJ Abrams has pull and scare them from doing business with him. Still I wish it was on a network that would let it run its natural course.

    1. That is a matter of taste, I loved Olivia and Anna Torv, from the very beginning, and this season she has been sensational, I did not care much about Walter and John Noble, he had to grow on me. I prefer subtle acting, small emotions.Anna Torv was treated unfairly, just because she played in introverted woman that closed off after trauma, John Noble got all the praise from the start, because for most people and critics (not me) Walter was so likeable and big emotions go down better.

      Be honest would you value him as much if he would have only played Walternate from the start? With all the backstory he had for both characters, I find that Anna Torv outplayed him with her dual Olivia’s and the mixes and Bellivia.She carried season 3.
      If Fringe gets Emmy attention, it should not just be John Noble but most certainly also Anna Torv.

      For me Anna Torv is the one who truly deserves to be nominated at least, but actually she should win.

  6. Maybe, now that the show won “Best Network Series”, “Best Actress in a Television Series” and “Best Supporting Actor in a Television Series” at the Saturn Awards last night (I was present), “Fringe” will be safe from cancelation for awhile.

    And where is Deadline’s coverage of the Saturn Awards?

  7. I have to say I’m disturbed by the distaste both the producers and Deadline Hollywood express for science fiction.

    “the whole stigma of the science fiction label that you consistently need to overcome”

    Stigma? Are you kidding me?

    “we’re so much more than science fiction”.
    “we’re fighting very hard against the science fiction moniker”

    Really? So sci-fi is a second-rate or inferior form of fiction, inadequate to the process of storytelling, is it? Then go produce Desperate Housewives. The terrible ‘stigma’ of sci-fi is what’s paying your bills, pal.

    You just insulted every devotee of the science fiction genre by indicating you want Fringe to be a soap opera instead of high concept.

    The genre of science fiction has had to fight against this kind of moronic and ignorant attitude for decades, consistently ignored by the Oscars because of it.

    My trepidation for season four grows when the producers express the same lukewarm relationship with the genre as Moore did with Galactica.

    I could go on for ages about the virtues of science fiction as serious literature – Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984 etc, and how it allows a writer to explore human issues in a way that no other genre can.

    But for those who question its value, no answer will suffice.

  8. Fringe is awesome, and deserves so much recognition. Granted, it’s filled with major inconsistencies (the main one being that the chaos theory would completely dictate against the probability of two parallel worlds being so minimally different), but once you open your mind to get over these you are facing a daring, no taboo sci-fi ride that explores some really interesting aspects of the human psyche. This is what sci-fi is all about, and I enjoy every episode of this series thinking someone must have been tripping while writing these scenes.
    Gentlemen, you may not get an Emmy, but you sure are in many people’s hearts!

  9. Fringe is one of those amazing shows that people will be talking about years after it’s off the air, its that special. John Noble is the most underrated actor on television and deserves an Emmy. By the way, bring back Newton!

  10. One of two writing jobs I’d love but would never accept for fear of screwing up the show. Fearless television, intelligent, pitch perfect.

  11. Fringe is the best shows on network television. It went from good to great. I will never understand why networks crap on their best shows. The ones they will be remembered for Fox has issues with Fringe. NBC doesn’t know what to do with Parenthood. CBS grapples with the Good Wife and ABC what great show do they have?

  12. This is a rare year where the two best dramas of the past season aren’t on cable: Friday Night Lights and Fringe.

  13. I thought the tone of the questions was very snippy. Was that how they were actually asked or were they changed when typing up the article to sound like stuck up fan boy?

Comments are closed.