TCA: Even critics get misty-eyed in final “Fringe” panel

At an executive panel on Monday’s FOX day at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Summer Press Tour, FOX Entertainment president Kevin Reilly addressed a question about his decision to let Fringe — which, while not a mega-hit like an American Idol, has a more-than-devoted fan base — go out with dignity in an upcoming final season, rather than just yanking it from the air.

“I hoping this puts to bed the ‘ghost of Comic-Con’ sentiment,” Reilly expressed, “if you will, which is, ‘Damn you, FOX. You put these shows on and then break our hearts.’ I think, at least hopefully, we’ve got a little bit of cred for seeing one through that really deserved it.

“I mean, look, I don’t like to just pull the plug on any show, because many of our failed shows, most of them have many, many millions of fans. But Fringe has a particular fan base. We have a checkered history with genre at best because we’re one of the only networks that has consistently tried ‘genre.’ ‘Genre’ is hard.  The Fringe producers have delivered a fantastic show that we are as passionate about today as we were the day we put it on.”

Fans are certainly passionate about it, and if reaction to a later panel was any indication, so are many critics. The final panel of FOX day was, indeed, for the final season of Fringe. On hand were executive producer J.H. Wyman, and stars Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv and Lance Reddick (John Noble had been scheduled to come, but was feeling under the weather). Via Twitter, one could get the sentiment that several normally hardened critics were feeling misty about this final Fringe panel ever, and as it would turn out, so would at least one of the actors.

We were first treated to a teaser trailer for the upcoming fifth and final season, which will move forward to the year 2036 and looks pretty great. We then watched a filmed message from co-creator and co-executive producer J.J. Abrams, who thanked critics for their support of the show, and even, at this point now, was able to joke about its modest ratings.

Fringe has always been true to its name,” said Abrams, “a little bit more of an outside-the-box series. The good thing about that for us is we can have these parties, for mixers, with every single viewer in attendance.”

Then the panel began. Wyman explained how the concept of the year 2036-set final season came about.

“Akiva Goldsman and [co-executive producer] Jeff Pinkner and myself ,” said Wyman, “came up with Episode 19 [“Letters of Transit,” which aired in April], and we are sort of in a tricky position because we had talked about, you know, [cancellation] being a possibility. But we didn’t really  like, we understood that the numbers were what they were. We have faith that we were going to be renewed, but we wanted the concept to sort of say, well, how could we get this thing platformed and sort of do a backdoor pilot for what some of the ideas and thoughts we wanted to do for the fifth season. So we actually used the spot, which traditionally we used for, you know, the one off the beaten path, like our Episode 19, and consistently we always did things that were off the track, so we ended up by using that spot for a backdoor pilot, which is what it was. So the ideas of what  the big movements, we’re going to tell the story in that year, that’s how it came about.”

Star Joshua Jackson expressed gratefulness that this final season was allowed to come about. It was a fortuitous turn of events that recalled his previous stint on television, as he explained.

“In an odd way, I’ve been given a really rare gift my two times going on television, because we knew going into the final season of Dawson’s Creek that it was going to be the final season, and we know going into the final season of this, and I have plenty of active friends and have been a fan of many shows that sort of got cut short before their time, and for us collectively to have the opportunity to go into the final season knowing that it’s our last opportunity to tell our story, but an opportunity to tell it in a way that we can be proud of as we walk away from it, it’s not bittersweet for me, to tell you the God’s honest, because all shows end. I would rather have the ability to end well rather than just get to the end of the season and have that be that. I’m really looking forward to the process of putting this to bed together knowing that it’s going to be the end so we can actually enjoy that ride off into the sunset.”

Jackson also said that they were currently only three days into shooting the final season, and that everyone involved wants to “really make it the kick-ass finale that we’ve always said we wanted for the show.”

Lance Reddick was noticeably emotional has he fought back some tears talking about his time on Fringe.

“It’s interesting,” said Reddick, “because Broyles is so similar to Daniels [Reddick’s character in The Wire] in form and function, in some ways it feels like I’ve been playing the same role for the last 10 years. And I’ve had  you know, I had a similar experience. I had a similar experience with what happened my last day of shooting on The Wire that I had at Comic-Con last weekend in that by the time The Wire was over, I was like, ‘I’m so ready to play something else,’ and then after my last scene, I couldn’t stop crying. And, you know, I’m not going to lie. I’ve had my complaints. I’ve had my hard times with the show, but when we were sitting on that panel, it was the first time — shit [chokes up] — excuse me, first time I realized that, for all of the ups and downs and for all the, you know, first, I’ve had a lot of personal stuff going on in the last couple of years, this cast has been family, and it’s just rare. So I’m really grateful.”

While part of that “family,” John Noble, was not on the panel, there was universal praise for him among his costars, as there has been among fans.

“I don’t think that there’s a person that works on our show that doesn’t have the utmost respect for John as a person but also as a performer,” said Anna Torv.

“I don’t know how many more superlatives I can throw at John over the course of the years, because I have a major, major man-crush on him” said Jackson, to laughter.

Wyman was disappointed that Noble has again been denied an Emmy nomination.

“I can’t comprehend it,” said Wyman. “I don’t understand, you know. If it’s an issue because this is a science fiction show and people tend to not maybe, you know, give them the same push or, I really don’t know. I mean, I’m trying to just believe that the cream will always rise to the top. I have to believe that, you know, because I’ve seen so many things actually kind of look like they’re not going to happen, and then they do happen. Hopefully — hopefully — somebody somewhere will realize what this man is doing and can actually give him some kind of celebration for it because it’s astounding to everyone with a set of eyes.”

“Well, to be fair,” added Jackson, “and no offense to the Academy members who are here since I’m fairly certain I’m not going to get nominated this year, and I’m willing to say this. [John] drowns in love. There is no place that he goes that Fringe fans don’t just absolutely shower him with the praise and love that he deserves. So while it’s a bit annoying that he hasn’t been, you know, rewarded with an Emmy nomination, that’s not the endall/beall of things, and at least for the people who care about our show, everybody sees what he’s doing.”

Wyman also wrapped up with what he wanted to accomplish in this final season for those who have seen what John and everyone else on Fringe are doing.

“We are going to go into the future in order to tell a story,” Wyman said. “So it’s not just by happenstance. It’s not sort of flippant. It’s really, like, okay, how can I utilize the future, the past, the present in order to really sort of get these themes that we’re trying to demonstrate home?

“So when I was facing, well, how are you going to do it literally episode to episode? Like how am I going to write 13 episodes that, you know, are going to encapsulate everything that everybody wants to see? How am I going to sort of move people? How am I going to make them feel that, you know, four years of their life was invested wisely? You know, I could only go back to what I personally as a viewer and being a huge fan of television would want. And that is so every single person that I’ve invested for four years, I want to see them get what they deserve to get. Some things may be unexpected. Some things may be expected, but I want them to feel like what they’ve got has been earned, and I don’t want unanswered questions that make me confused. I want to be able to feel like there’s a sense of closure. But at the same time, what I’m really after is to make sure that there is a feeling of hope from this, that at the end, when you’re finished watching it, you can say, ‘Wow, that was very moving, and I feel really good, and I feel emotional,’ but the next day driving to work, you can actually say, ‘I think I can imagine where they’re going to be in their lives and how it would go on and that the people I fell in love with for four years, they’re going to be okay, that I can imagine and feel all right and let Fringe sort of, you know, go off into the ether in a way that is satisfying and bittersweet.'”

The fifth and final season of Fringe premieres Sept. 28 at 9pm ET/PT on FOX.

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Fringe cast shot: © 2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Andrew Matusik/FOX

Fringe TCA panel: Credit: Frank Micelotta/FOX

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