August 29, 2008

‘Lost’ Co-Creator Takes Fox to the ‘Fringe’


At any given time, J.J. Abrams has an awful lot on his mind: He's the producer, writer and co-creator of ABC's hit series "Lost," and the writer and director of the return of "Star Trek" to the big screen.

But apparently Abrams was not busy enough.

Even before "Trek" went before the cameras last year, he was already at work creating his new Fox sci-fi series, "Fringe," which debuts 8 p.m. on Sept. 9.

While Abrams is juggling post-production on "Trek" and writing "Fringe" episodes, his assistants are continually at him about all manner of other things in his life: meeting schedules, publicity requests, wardrobe decisions, and the time he's to pick up a child from school.

Meantime, his "Fringe" cast and crew are 3,000 miles away, busy making New York City look like whatever dank, urban world is necessary to creep out their audience.

"J.J. is like Oz," notes actor Joshua Jackson on the New York set. "He's manipulating all his little kingdoms and empires from afar."

Jackson plays Peter Bishop, the son of crazed scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble), who, together with FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), investigates the secretive goings-on behind the doors of industrial giant Massive Dynamics as well as other paranormal phenomena.

It's bright and sunny on this midsummer's day in New York, a stark contrast to the dimly lit set of Bishop's basement lab, which is cluttered with test tubes, mysterious devices, animal cages, a headless "human body" on a table covered with a sheet, and a stall that occasionally hosts a live cow (don't ask).

It's a scene of carefully crafted chaos, with crew members occasionally placing items askew and a smoke machine whirring away to enhance the mood.

"They're fighting against technology and science out of control," Abrams explains back in Hollywood.

"They have to solve crimes each week that are happening due to experiments being executed by people who are using the whole world as guinea pigs."

Olivia draws Bishop out of an asylum where he has spent the last 17 years, having previously worked in the government's so-called "fringe" science. "Spending all that time being pumped full of drugs and having electric shock therapy has made him 'a little bit' unstable," Noble says. The fringe science, he notes, is more than just science fiction. "Most of this fringe stuff is actually possible - which makes it interesting and scary at the same time."

Peter Bishop is "a rogue, a brilliant nomad who doesn't really know what his purpose is," Abrams explains.

Peter resentfully accepts the fringe assignment - mostly translating for and wrangling his estranged, deranged father. "He's essentially the bridge between Walter's techno-babble and English," says Abrams.

"He's a doubter," adds Jackson between one of the half-dozen takes per scene demanded by exacting director Paul Edwards. "He serves to say, 'OK, those are the four things that make sense, and then these are the 16 things that don't make sense. So let's go with the four that make sense.'"

The concept for the series arose while Abrams was busy at work with "Trek" writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, with whom he had collaborated on "Alias."

They all were inspired by their favorites - "The Twilight Zone,""The X-Files" and David Cronenberg's "Altered States."

Although it's generally considered - by both TV insiders and fans alike - that most anything Abrams touches turns to gold ("Lost" continues to be one of television's highest-rated series), he still considers himself just a lucky genre fan who made it, never forgetting who it is he's working for.

Originally published by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.

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