August 24, 2008


Complexity Without Commitment (DAVE ITZKOFF, 8/24/08, NY Times)

Mr. Abrams is especially mindful of the television-series-as-relationship metaphor as he prepares “Fringe,” which will have its premiere on Fox on Sept. 9. Created with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the screenwriters of “Transformers” and Mr. Abrams’s forthcoming “Star Trek” film, “Fringe” is an hourlong drama about an investigative team whose explorations lead to a shadowy world of science fiction and the seemingly supernatural.

It is also Mr. Abrams’s attempt to rectify the narrative (and viewer attention span) problems he faced on previous shows and to synthesize the many lessons he has learned from them into a series that is both complex and accessible, and that is capable of arriving at a determined conclusion over an undecided number of episodes.

“The evolution from your ideas and expectations and intent to what actually occurs in the series is a massive gulf,” Mr. Abrams said. “It’s a best-effort scenario. But I think that’s what a series is anyway.”

His newest show was born from pragmatism. In 2007 he was preparing to direct “Star Trek” for Paramount, but he also owed a television series to Warner Brothers, the studio that produces “Fringe,” and he turned to Mr. Kurtzman and Mr. Orci for help. They traded ideas about beloved fantasy films and television series — “The X-Files,” “Altered States,” the early movies of David Cronenberg — but also looked carefully at procedural crime dramas dominating the networks. “When 6 of the Top 10 shows are ‘Law & Order’ and ‘C.S.I.,’ ” Mr. Orci said, “you have to be a fool not to go study what it is that they’re doing.”

Cross-pollinating these genres, they came up with three characters — a neophyte F.B.I. agent (played by Anna Torv), a brilliant but mad scientist (John Noble) and his wayward son (Joshua Jackson) — who solve a single mystery each week. (For starters: Who unleashed a flesh-melting virus on an airplane, killing all its passengers?) The initial goal, Mr. Abrams said, was to create a show that suggested complexity but was comprehensible in any given episode — a goal he felt eluded him on “Alias.”

It would be fine for these guys to engage in elliptical story-telling if the networks would just give them a set time-frame for how long the series was going to run and make that short--two or three seasons. But viewers can tell when the folks making the show have no idea where it's headed either.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at August 24, 2008 7:57 AM
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