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Pinkner and Wyman: the Evil Geniuses behind ‘Fringe’

May 20, 2010 |  8:00 am

222_overthere_009 “No evil scientist thinks he’s an evil scientist.” J.H. Wyman explained to me. “They have an agenda that is perfectly explainable in their minds. Rationalized to an extent they can tell you why what they’re doing is just.”

Wyman and Jeff Pinkner should know a little something about evil. Together, they’ve committed an unforgivable act: shepherded “Fringe” onto my television must-watch list. My way too overcrowded much-watch list (I’ll never get to “Battlestar Galactica” at this rate).

This understanding of the motivations behind evil scientists is just one sign of what has helped Wyman and Pinkner guide “Fringe” to success where other science fiction series have failed.

I got the opportunity to speak with them Wednesday afternoon about the second season of “Fringe,” its finale tonight, and the future as they prepare for Season Three, and I found myself surprised how often the conversation about a show known for its crazy, out-there science came back to the human aspect.

“In many ways it’s a procedural show,” Pinkner elaborated, “but what really excites us is the emotional connection between the characters. It is a family soap opera masquerading as a science fiction show.”

“Ironically, the more science fiction we get, the more we’re able to tell human stories.” Wyman added.

The first season of “Fringe” leaned more heavily on the procedural format.

“Season One was Olivia’s story. Crossing the threshold.” Pinkner told me, “Starting in the pilot, she learned this whole world of Fringe science existed. By the end of the season, she had literally crossed over into a parallel universe. Season Two was our team coming together. Peter for the first time wanted to be there. Walter was starting to get his sea legs, emancipated and more grounded as a human being. They started to investigate the mystery they were wrapped up in.”

I asked if they had set goals when starting the sophomore year of “Fringe.”

“We knew that Season Two would largely be driven by a couple of things.” Pinkner said. “One was the secret of Peter’s identity, which we acknowledged to the audience at the end of Season One. Then we wanted to acknowledge it to our characters. And we knew that by the end of the season, Walternate would have succeeded in his goal of crossing over to our side to try to convince his son to come back.”

Pinkner went on. “We wanted to play consequences as much as possible. We didn’t just want event, event, event. Olivia learns the truth about Peter, and what are the consequences of that? Peter learns the truth, what are the consequences of that. Of course, before any of that, it’s Walter suffering with the secretly and desperately trying to keep it all quiet. We wanted to give these things time.”

Which of course built to the Season Two finale, and our most in-depth peek so far into the alternate universe of “Fringe.”

“We started talking about the other side early on.” Pinkner told. “We were both obsessed with the concept of choices. It started with Olivia in the foreground and what we call Bolivia (Olivia B). What you see is different because of choices she made in life. That was really exciting to us. The world’s a little different and a little the same. I think people can identify with the fantasy of that. What would I be doing? That’s a huge topic of our conversations ever since we started talking about the other side.”

Not only did they have to invent differences in the characters, Pinkner, Wyman and the rest of the creative staff had to highlight differences in the worlds.

“A lot of them are ideas that we jokingly threw out.” Pinkner explained. “Some of them, like the notion of zeppelins or the Statue of Liberty if we didn’t let it oxidize or the Grand Central Hotel, we’re not making up. Had the Hindenburg not blown up, zeppelins would be passenger air ships docking at the Empire State Building. That was the plan. We opened ourselves to the standard that it had to be possible.”

But even among all the details of the alternate reality, “Fringe” continued to focus on the human aspect.

“We fall in love with characters,” Pinkner stressed, “Peter’s being reunited with his mother he never knew. It’s a spin on an adoption story. Our story just happened in another universe.”

“It’s the quintessential kidnapping story.” Wyman agreed.

Not wanting to spoil any of the finale, I turned the conversation back to the second season as a whole and asked if they had any favorite moments from this year.

“We all really loved the “Peter” episode,” Wyman said,  “but we can point to moments in every episode where we were blown away by our cast and crew. We were excited to see Ana create another characterization for Bolivia and have Peter hear the most insane news ever, I was stolen from an alternate universe, and ground it emotionally.”

I asked about their attempts to break away from convention with episodes like the 1985 flashback “Peter” and the Film Noir Musical “Brown Betty.”

“What’s great is that we have a very committed and smart audience that allows us to be bold in our storytelling.” Pinkner answered.

“We have an environment where everyone owns a part of the building,” Wyman continued. “A lot of the great things we’ve done are born from ideas that come out of nowhere.”

For example the retro credit sequence for “Peter.”

“One of our writers said off-handedly that if we’re doing a show from 1985, shouldn’t we do a credit sequence from 1985, and literally, we pounced on it.” Pinkner recalled.

“Then we said to J.J. [Abrams], who wrote the theme song, how about giving us a 1980s version, and he was very, very happy to do that.” Wyman added.

And what does “Fringe” have in store for Season Three?

“What we found successful at the end of Season One was the concrete proof of the other side. We had another chapter and so much more to look forward to.” Wyman said. “We worried we had to make the ending of Season Two as provocative as Season One. We were ecstatic when we figured it out. I think after you watch it, you’ll understand what I mean. Now Season Three will be about this new chapter, this new concept of understanding the show that I’m absolutely sure the fans will really respond to.”

When will they start work on the new season?

“We’ve finished our hiatus.” Wyman replied. “We start on Friday. Right back at it.”

The second half of the “Fringe” season finale airs tonight at 9. Make sure you check back here afterward and leave your opinions on the second season.

-Andrew Hanson

Related:

"Fringe": Finale Part One

"Fringe": Ferguson's Disappeared!

Complete "Fringe" coverage on Show Tracker

PHOTO: Guest star Leonard Nimoy as William Bell and John Noble as Walter Bishop. FOX Television.


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