Even as “Fringe” closes out its five-year run on Fox with a two-hour series finale Friday, J.J. Abrams hopes the program will live on for future generations and take its place in the canon of genre groundbreakers.
“Hopefully people will continue to discover it,” says Abrams, who created “Fringe” with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. “My favorite show is ‘The Twilight Zone,’ which is 60 years old now, so it’s a comforting thing to think there are ‘Fringe’ fans that aren’t even born yet.”
That underlying sense of optimism is also one of the underpinnings of the sci-fi drama.
The title refers to the so-called fringe division of the FBI, under the auspices of the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, whose members use “fringe” science along with more traditional investigative techniques to solve unexplained occurrences that are often related to mysteries in a parallel universe.
Although never a huge ratings earner, “Fringe” gained pivotal media support and a passionate audience over its five-season run.
“Its success further legitimized genre television in the broadcast network marketplace,” says Peter Roth, president of Warner Bros. Television, which produces the series. “The fact that ‘Fringe’ launched in the fashion that it did, and had such critical acclaim that continued throughout the life of the series, has helped to enable network buyers to continue to feel confident about the value of these kinds of shows.”
Fans fought to keep “Fringe” on the air when it was in danger of cancellation, lobbying Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly by sending him Red Vines and showing up at Comic-Con with white tulips, both items symbolic to the show. They also joined social media campaigns and wrote letters of support to advertisers such as Ford and Verizon.
“We have always endeavored to tell stories of the human condition and hope,” says exec producer J.H. Wyman. ” ‘Fringe’ spoke to people on that level. Our viewers believe in the possibility of finding beauty even in darkness and they became very passionate about it.”
The series has gone out on its own terms — 13 episodes renewed by Reilly last April — culminating with the syndication-critical 100th episode. (A syndication deal with Discovery’s Science Channel was announced in May.)
“The show will be remembered first for the characters at the center. They’ve been so richly drawn and fully dimensionalized that they will have lasting impact,” says Fox Broadcasting chief operating officer Joe Earley. “The quality of the series — from writing, to production, to performances by the cast, to the visual effects — will be its hallmark.”
For the cast, many of whom play additional characters in the show’s alternate universe, ending production provided fulfillment in concluding their characters’ arcs.
” ‘Fringe’ enabled me to use all the skills acquired as an actor over 40 years. It was constantly challenging because the writers kept throwing out new ideas and variations,” says John Noble, who plays Dr. Walter Bishop, the government researcher-mad scientist who is father to Joshua Jackson’s character, Peter Bishop. “The father-son relationship Josh and I were able to play without being stuffy and sentimental was the most important aspect of the show.”
“The single most challenging thing was trying to make that father-son dynamic as honest as possible and keep it growing as we came into each other’s lives,” Jackson says. “Ultimately the entire story is Walter’s sin and redemption, through his child, Peter, and then Peter and Olivia.”
Anna Torv, who plays Olivia Dunham, enjoys how “Fringe” explores moral and ethical boundaries and how people’s choices affect the lives they end up leading.
“It piqued my curiosity and imagination, putting this ragtag family back together in a different form,” Torv says. “The alternative universe stuff was something I never imagined. It gave me a break from Olivia, who carries the weight of the world on her shoulders.”
“I feel like there is so much to like, but at its core there’s so much action, and by the end of each season it was about saving the world,” says Lance Reddick, who portrays Homeland Security agent Phillip Broyles and his parallel universe counterpart Col. Broyles. “In the end, it’s a show about relationships and family, not just Peter, Walter and Olivia, but the entire team.”
Jasika Nicole co-stars as FBI junior agent Astrid Farnsworth and thinks “Fringe” crosses many genres, which is evident in its fan base.
“A lot of fans who weren’t into sci-fi loved Olivia and Peter, and all of that emotional storytelling is one of reasons so many people of lots of ethnicities came together from many countries all over the world,” she says. “I found people of color felt the story was beautiful.”
Blair Brown, who portrays Nina Sharp, also notes she’s never encountered such a diverse audience.
“I’m always surprised who comes up and says they’re addicted, and it’s not just sci-fi geeks,” Brown says. “We are telling pretty profound human and metaphysical stories, with a lot about love. There are always questions being asked, rather than answers. For certain audiences, that is really intriguing. If this isn’t the only world, what does it look like from another reality?”
Roth attributes the popularity of the show to the confluence of a great idea, outstanding writing and compelling characters. “This particular idea has captured people’s imaginations,” he says. “It’s a riveting drama with anomalies based on science fact combined with characters who are unique.”
“It can be scary, mindboggling, hilarious, and heart-wrenching, sometimes all at once,” adds Earley.
Abrams says he would like “Fringe” to be remembered as “the weirdest show about humanity.”
“I love that it’s gone to crazy edges of what’s possible scientifically and always kept its heart and soul as a primary guide in terms of what stories to tell,” he says.
“I think it’s one of great sci-fi series of all time,” says Noble. “It’s been done from beginning to end with incredible attention to detail, incredible integrity and with undying passion.”
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