You probably know this already, but it’s worth a reminder: J.J. Abrams is a busy guy.
In addition to working in post on his upcoming “Star Trek” sequel, Abrams’ Bad Robot TV shingle has a busy roster that has made him a surprisingly regular presence at the Television Critics Association press tour this week, popping up to panel NBC’s “Revolution” and dropping by FOX’s TCA party to support the end of “Fringe.”
Abrams was one of the three original creators of “Fringe,” along with Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman, and he has remained a strongly interested creative force through the five-season run which will be wrapping up on January 18.
Along with a fellow reporter — Credit on the non-HitFix questions to Will Harris — I got a quick two-on-one chat with Abrams on Tuesday (January 8) night, talking for five minutes about the conclusion of “Fringe” and his reflections on the sci-fi drama’s 100-episode run.
Click through for the full conversation.
Question: Are you happy with the way “Fringe” is ending?
J.J. Abrams: Very much so. Obviously it’s a bittersweet thing, but the fact that we’ve gotten this far is so crazy to me, that the network allowed the show to survive as long as it did, I don’t know when that’s happened before, really…
[At this point, FX’s “Legit” co-star D.J. Qualls drops by, taps Abrams on the shoulder and effusively announces, “Thanks for having me on ‘Lost!'”]
J.J. Abrams: The thing that’s so crazy is that every other network would be like, “No…” And we got to 100 episodes. The story got to end in a way that I think was appropriate for the story, the series. So I’m sad to see it go, but I can’t believe we got here.
HitFix: Do you ever look back at the pilot you made and reflect on the journey?
J.J. Abrams: Oh yeah.
HitFix: And when you started with that pilot, how much of where we ended up do you think you had in your mind?
J.J. Abrams: We knew alternate universes. We knew The Observers. We knew, even when Walter first sees Peter at the institution and he checks his eyes, we knew what was going on and why. But what we didn’t know was sort of… Everything. We didn’t know how crazy and wild and big it would go. We didn’t, of course, know the jump forward in the fifth season. We didn’t know some of the details of the Cortexiphan stuff with Olivia, but we knew that there was something she had gone through. You always have the best idea at the time and you think, “That’s kinda where we’re gonna go” and the closer you get to doing it, the better idea comes up and you go, “Oh my God, what about that?” So it’s always a leap of faith a little bit.
HitFix: Is there anything you guys introduced and had to leave behind that you sorta miss?
J.J. Abrams: When we first started the show, we sorta saw it as a kinda “Twilight Zone”-y, “X Files” kinda crazy weird-thing-of-the-week and even though we kinda it up to some degree, we ended up sorta shifting really into more of a kinda soap opera about these characters, which I kind of loved. I don’t regret leaving that sorta style or kinda template behind. I think it’s actually far better not to do that, but that was one thing that changed a little bit. We didn’t quite realize how serialized we were gonna get. The intention was not to be that serialized, but once the show sorta proved to be like: It’s got this audience and this is what it wants to be, I think it was the right move.
Question: There were so many surreal moments that went on during the run of the show. Were there any that really just kinda made you giggle that you got away with them?
J.J. Abrams: Well, I mean, just the idea of Walter going back for Peter, what I loved about it was, I thought it was as beautiful and emotional a story as like any you’d see in a medical show or a legal show, but it was f***ing alternate universes and a father who was desperate, who against his wife’s wishes was going to another universe to swap out a boy? It was so nuts, but it was so sweet and so emotional and for me, it was like one example of kinda the epitome of what the show, at its best was, which is a really emotional heart-breaking and big-hearted show about love, but it was in the context of like the weirdest crap you’ve ever seen and some of the most grotesque and scary… I also loved things like that monster bursting out of the bathroom on the airplane, stuff that just made me like, “I’m so happy I get to be part of a show where that happens.”
HitFix: There were the three of you who created the show, but then you very quickly found the right people to run it from there. How important was that?
J.J. Abrams: Well, you know, Alex, Bob and I came up with the show and then they were very busy doing “Transformers” and all their things and so I brought in Jeff [Pinkner], with whom I’d worked on “Alias” and “Lost” and then we brought in Joel [Wyman] who we were actually developing something else with. It took us six or seven episodes, but what was great was once Jeff and Joel found their rhythm, it was like, “Oh, yeah yeah yeah. That’s the show.” What was great about it was they also embraced wholly the six or so episodes leading up to it where there was the rapid aging and the people in amber and all these weird stuff that like we had ideas, but they incorporated them wholly into the mythology of the series so it was kinda a beautiful way of like establishing the proper rhythm, but not being like, “Forget those first six.” They did the opposite. They were like, “No, no, no. Those first six were important.” So when you watch the show you go, “Oh! Episode 5, that wasn’t just…” And that, to me, was something I thought was brilliant.
The antepenultimate episode of “Fringe” airs on Friday, January 11.