Fringe Executive Producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman Talk Season Four

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Fox Television

Promotional poster for season four of Fringe

In the season three Fringe finale “The Day We Died,” Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) is erased from existence after stepping into the Doomsday Device in order to save his world as well as the parallel world. His sacrifice forces both universes to work together, beginning in the fourth season premiere “Neither Here Nor There,” airing Friday, September 23 at 9:00 p.m. on FOX. Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel) joins the Fringe team and assists with an investigation of a shapeshifter case to which he has a very personal connection.

Earlier this week, Fringe executive producers J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkner teased me along with other journalists about what fans can expect to see this season. The following is an edited version of that Q & A. Enjoy!

For a chunk of last season you had Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) in alternating episodes and in the finale, you basically told people that he has ceased to exist. I was wondering what you wanted to put out there to reassure his fans that they will be getting sufficient amounts of Joshua Jackson this season.

J.H. Wyman: Peter is part of the DNA of the show and we’ve done some pretty crazy things in the past where people were like, “Wait a minute. Why are they doing that? What’s going on?” Hopefully in season four, viewers will trust us enough to realize that we’re doing things for a reason. To have Fringe without Peter in some way, shape or form really is not Fringe.

For those of you who haven’t seen the opening or what’s going on, he’s part of the show. He’s part of the language of our show and a very big part of it. There are two things that we want to get across without really ruining anything and that is, number one, again, Peter is part of the DNA and he’ll always be that. Number two is that just because he doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that the three years that we’ve all invested in and watched does not exist or didn’t happen. It really did happen and it’ll unfold itself for you to understand within the context I’m speaking of.

So people shouldn’t worry. We love Peter and know how much everybody loves him. We both can’t imagine telling the series and the story without him.

Jeff Pinkner: Just to follow up, I imagine some of you have not seen this, but fans around the world put together this video piece [called] Where is Peter Bishop? They literally made signs and took photos of images around the world, sort of like a “Where is Peter Bishop” campaign. It’s amazing and a tribute to an entire cast and crew. The whole thing plays as kind of a love letter to the show.

What we’d like to say is that Fringe constantly tries to recontextualize your perception of the story. We introduced Walter Bishop (John Noble) in season one and by the time you got to season two you realized that our most sympathetic character was the chief architect of all the trouble in two universes. There’s a version of the narrative where he’s the biggest villain of the entire piece. So the idea that Peter is gone - and ultimately he’s not permanently gone - is an opportunity for us to once again sort of recontextualize the story of everything we’ve seen, which is something that we love to play with.

Are there any returning faces that we can expect during the first half of this season?

JP: Yes, there will be returning faces. We hate to spoil things, but there will be characters that you’ll be delighted to see again, hopefully, and some you’ll be surprised to see again.

JHW: And there are some you may have seen before that come back in a completely different context.

You’ve talked about the fans who put together this great video; the fans within geek culture especially have rallied behind the show, Is there a particular element you think that really provokes such a rabid following among fans of Comic-Con and the like?

JP: I think they’re just fans of adventurous storytelling, and I also think they’re sort of treated as this outsider element of fandom when the truth is they’re wildly passionate about the stories they like. What sort of separates them is their willingness to really, really invest and make stories an important part of their lives.

We have always said that one of the things that appeals to us about this show is our ability to go deep, both with our characters and themes. And what we’ve often said as well is that to us the best form of ongoing television and certainly scientific fiction is when it really speaks about characters as well as the human condition and what it means to be alive at this moment in history. These are certainly things that we try to touch upon and hopefully things that people are appreciating.

We’ve also said that not everybody likes licorice, but those people who do like licorice tend to really, really like it and we’re happy to be making licorice.

JHW: It’s interesting, some people in the viewership of the intelligent world get turned off just by the term “science fiction” and aren’t really willing to invest. That’s seems peculiar to me and Jeff because all the movies that are so successful right now are sci-fi. In the cinema, people are willing to say, “Yes, sign me up. I want to go,” but with television, I don’t know. There is still a negative connotation to a lot of viewers.

So our fans are willing to go out on a limb with us and check out some really far out ideas. I think that’s the difference; they’re willing to invest 150% because they’re in with the entire genre.

Another Fringe fan favorite are “The Observers” and it looks like we might be getting a lot more of them this season. Will they be more involved?

JHW: Oh, yes.There are a lot of shows that string people along and use the secrets of the narrative engine to kind of keep people coming back every week, and I don’t know if those programs even have an answer or how they build their shows.

We’re not really fans of that.We want to give answers and both of us would be frustrated if we were watching and investing in a show and they weren’t giving us answers.We believe that the drama in the program is enough to keep people invested.The Observers are a large question [mark] and we feel it’s our duty to give some answers and sort of backup everything that you’ve seen in the past with some concrete facts that you can start to form your opinion.

So you’re definitely going to learn a little bit more about them this year and hopefully will be able to conceptualize them in a way that you’ll be happy with and think, “Oh, that’s really interesting.”

It’s been teased that we’re going to see the two universes work together on some occasion a little bit. What can you tell us about how often we’re going to see that and what it was like planning out those stories and incorporating both worlds?

JP: The question, “How often?” is clearly one of the chief driving conditions of this season as far as how are these two universes going to work together in order to heal their joint damage now that they have a means of doing so. So unlike last year where we were bouncing back and forth, this season there will definitely be stories where the two universes have to work together. Certainly there’s an implication that Walternate (John Noble), despite all promises to the contrary, is still a bad guy manipulating things behind the scenes. So that’s also a story that we’re going to be delving in.

When it comes to what it’s like to plan out the episodes, certainly there are some logistical complications because our actors are playing two roles.From a production standpoint, the episodes are very complicated, but we love that stuff.Those are the challenges and, as hard as they are, thankfully our crew in Vancouver is outstanding and with every episode we get better and more seamless at being able to have actors interact with themselves.

JHW: Right from the get-go we began figuring out how we were going to tell the story of that alternate universe. Is it going to be a little bit here and a little bit there in one episode, or are we going to actually go over there for a whole episode and so forth?

What we realized is the reason we’re doing this to sort of highlight and contrast our characters that we love with versions of themselves that maybe aren’t similar to aspects and the individual characteristics of our team. So this offered us a great opportunity to go further with that and sort of have two characters in the same frame and actually watch how, for example, two Olivias (Anna Torv) look at a problem very differently and see that their solutions are very different.

JP: The good news is that Anna Torv and Seth Gabel are finally ready to admit that they’re both one half of a pair of identical twins.So now we have their alter egos acting. It’s made it much easier for us.

“LSD” was one of my favorite episodes of the entire series. Are we going to see something else sort of special in the first part of the season?

JHW: Well, first of all, thanks a lot, especially because Jeff and I both felt that it was going to be one of the easier episodes to do because there’s animation in it. In fact, it almost broke us.Let’s just say I bow down to people who do animation and realize how difficult it is.But, thanks for saying that.

Every season we try to do an episode that’s outside the box, like “Brown Betty.”So for sure, this year you’re going to see one that is definitely a bit off the beaten track as well.

JP: The truth is, again, we like to make it hard on ourselves and challenge ourselves.During that episode, we literally had little Barbie dolls and little toy cars and we were taking photographs with digital cameras to sort of set the animated storyboards.

The idea of having Peter disappear I think is just completely brilliant.I’m wondering, though, what was more challenging - coming up with the ways to make him disappear or coming up with a way to bring him back?

JP: They both had their challenges. I think that figuring out the way to make him disappear was pretty simple.It’s sort of like, “Oh, now he’s gone.” Coming up with the context of his return has been super fun and hopefully the payoff will be really rewarding. We think it is.

And then, as always and as Joel alluded earlier, we’re always far more interested in answering questions and then playing the consequences. Hopefully the consequences of Peter’s return will sort of give us an engine for a good part of the season.

JHW: Yes, and also, again, as they (the episodes) roll out, you’ll understand a little bit more and it will become clearer about the reasons why and how we did what we did. So the future of our storytelling sort of dictated how Peter was going to disappear and then come back.

What will Lincoln Lee bring to the Fringe team this season?

JP: That’s a really good question because we think of it as what part of the tent he’s going to hold up. What Lincoln does bring is a certain thematic element that we really need in order to tell the big picture this year. His coming in and being displaced and a lot of the things that his character will be going through are going to help tell our story thematically.

One of the major themes that we’re really interested in getting into this year is sort of like the impact that we have on each others’ lives. What does it mean if life is valued by the connections that we make and we are defined by who we know and who defines us and how we define other people. So we’re kind of in love with that theme and having this guy sort of come in and have to go into a very strange world and figure out things about existence and everything that he thought was true is no longer valid. On top of that, he’s going to start to put back together the psyche that has been sort of fractured by this knowledge that he really shouldn’t have. That’s why he’s really important to the program.

Please note that all photos above are copyright of FOX Television.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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