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Bad Robot Team Talks LOST, Alias, Fringe and More

Here is the first part of GQ Magazine's Interview with the Bad Robot team, including JJ Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, Bryan Burke, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci.

It is a great read and I love this promo pic as well!

GQ: JJ, is there anything in particular that you learned from the Lost experience that you brought to Fringe?

Roberto Orci [writer/executive producer, Alias; co-creator/executive producer, Fringe; executive producer/co-writer, Star Trek]: We needed Damon and Carlton.

JJ Abrams [co-creator/executive producer/director, Lost, Fringe and Alias; director/co-writer/executive producer, Star Trek]: And they weren’t available. No—my involvement with Lost really ended within the first season. And so a lot of what I learned from Lost was what people watching the show learned, which is what great characters and story looked like. I think the work that Damon and Carlton do on that show is obviously a high-water mark for TV, and the ambition. In terms of this show, it’s a very different show. Every show’s a different show. It’s easy, in retrospect, to make comparisons, but when you’re in the thick of it, when you’re working on something, even if it’s the same people, it’s suddenly a whole new nightmare challenge. And you scramble the best you can to do your best work, and it’s especially difficult when you’re doing a mythology show that’s also aspiring to be a standalone show. Lost was very lucky early on to get really good ratings. So the network was okay with mythology, and the show’s never apologized for it. Fringe, up front, said, “Hey, it’s a standalone show, and every week you’re going to get your own little separate mystery.” But the fans who come back to watch the show– and tonight, fingers crossed, that happens again– are the people who typically like the mythology. So there’s a weird dynamic that goes on that I still haven’t learned, from Alias to Lost to Fringe, how to necessarily solve.

GQ: How to please those two audiences simultaneously, you mean.

Abrams: Yeah. This group dealt with that with Star Trek. How do we do something that’s wholly original, while also doing something that’s wholly reverent of what’s come before? And how do you do a show that’s a week to week closed story and still tell a larger overarching story? It’s hard to please both sides of that all the time. It can be done in some instances, and other times, y’know, we fail miserably. But that’s definitely one of the challenges that we face, doing the show.

GQ: Was that always your intention, that Fringe would be more of a one-and-done show that didn’t depend as much on people following the mythology over a season-long arc, the way Lost does?

Orci: We always thought it would be both. That we’d have a little clue in each episode, but then every few episodes, you can have a highly mythological serialized episode. But in general, we always try to have that right balance.

Kurtzman: Which is a challenge, because I think our collective instincts veer toward serialization.

Orci: From watching Lost, I learned characters. That characters are key. The smallest character moment can be a gigantic revelation, as a viewer.

Damon Lindelof [co-creator/executive producer, Lost]: From the outside looking in, though, as a fan, and someone who had nothing at all to do with the development of Fringe, I felt the pilot clearly signified both shows. And the show that was more interesting to me as a viewer was the mythology, because of Nina Sharp and the mysterious and elusive William Bell. There’s a moment in the pilot where Walter looks into Peter’s eye, and I’m like, “What was that all about?” The problem with mystery of the week shows is, at the end of the episodes it’s just like that [brushes his hands off] and that’s not compelling television to me.

Bryan Burk [co-producer, Alias; executive producer, Lost/Fringe/Star Trek]: [On Fringe] I found us, referencing Alias more often than Lost, in the sense that that was a serialized show, and then in the middle of the series we started dabbling with making them self-contained.

Abrams: Well, ABC insisted on it.

Burk: Yeah. And it was hard to go there. Particularly when it’s such a serialized show. So from the beginning, the idea was, is it possible, how can we do it—how do we service two different audiences, those who just pop in for the individual episodes and doing what we all love, which is the mythology.

Kurtzman [to Carlton Cuse]: You and Damon have both worked on shows that were standalone, procedural shows. Do you feel that that can be as satisfying, storytelling wise?

Carlton Cuse [creator, Nash Bridges; executive producer, Lost]: I think they’re apples and oranges. A lot of people like the satisfaction that comes with seeing that case resolved every week. There’s a certain artificiality to it, but there’s also kind of a wish-fulfillment quality—a dead body falls at the beginning, and by the end of the episode you know who did it. The puzzle’s solved. I think those shows—I did Nash Bridges for six years, and that show had a little bit of ongoing sort of character mythology, but it was just a case every week. And there’s a certain satisfaction in doing that. And obviously the audience can just drop in whenever they want to that kind of a show.

Lindelof: There’s a difference between serialization and mythology, though. Like Grey’s Anatomy is heavily serialized, in terms of the character relationships—who’s sleeping with who, who’s angry at who, who’s just been fired. And you have to watch every episode to understand the depth of it.

GQ: Once it was clear there was going to be some kind of mythology in Fringe, was there pressure from the network to bring in the payoffs more quickly than you might have in the past?

Kurtzman: Yeah. For sure, there was.

Orci: Yes and no. I think they were confused about it.

Abrams: They don’t want mythology, but when you have a [recurring, mysterious] character like The Observer, they want to make a big deal about The Observer. They want it, and then they don’t want it, at the same time.

Kurtzman: I think the core story has to be the mystery of the week. It has to be set up in the teaser and resolved by the last act. But there are things like the Observer that don’t. And as we’ve been talking about, with all these shows, there’s also the deeper backstory of these characters, and that goes on forever and ever, and that’s the serialized element of the show.