Thursday, January 17, 2013

David Wu reflects on "Fringe," meeting the cast, and how this series will resonate in time

My journey with Fringe didn't begin at the start of the "Pilot" episode, like many of you.  Mine started midway through that episode.

It was September 2008, and I had seen the bombardment of advertisements for this new J.J. Abrams series.  It had been a long time (perhaps since In Living Color or Growing Pains) since I was interested in any TV series.  So while I was mindful of the hype, I had not fully bought into it, and I took a long nap after work on that Tuesday evening without a second thought.

I woke up, noticed the time, and decided to turn in to the show.  Opening the TV software on my PC, I watched - in the standard definition broadcast with the left and right sides cut off (that's how FOX rolled with standard def back then) - as Charlie Francis visited the Harvard basement lab for the first time, and asked: "Is that a cow?"

And the rest is relative history.  Between then and now, I became a Fringe fan "outlier."  I met and mingled with the cast in NYC.  I created an episodic song recap project that may go down as one of the most elaborate (and insane) fan ventures in history.  And perhaps most profoundly, a character was named after me (yes, "David Wu") in a Fringe episode.

The Fringe Podcast gave me the opportunity to earn a press pass and interview the cast at New York Comic Con in 2009.  It was a spur of the moment decision, and my first trip to New York.  In my interactions with the cast throughout that weekend, it became clear that they were more than just co-workers to each other - they had become a true family less than a full season into the show.

They also knew the importance of establishing a personal relationship with the show's fans, and they took advantage of every opportunity.  This interaction and dynamic would prove to be crucial in the yearly renewal of the series, up until FOX's decision to award the show a 5th and final season (extending the series to 100 episodes) despite horrible Neilsen ratings.

Here are some brief recollections of my interactions with the Fringe cast, and also one producer:

  • John Noble ("Walter Bishop") - This man cares. He was like an older brother to his castmates, and visibly moved whenever a fan praised his work.  By the end of the weekend, he would wave at me in recognition.  When I asked him to record a podcast promo spot, he took my iPod with a recording device attached, and spoke directly into the device's display section - a very Walter-esque moment.  He was elated when he found out about my music recap project for the series.
  • Josh Jackson ("Peter Bishop") - Right before interviewing him, we exchanged greetings and I happened to call him "sir."  ... To which he responded: "Sir?  C'mon I'm still young - I'm turning 30 this year.  Haha!" Then slapped me on the shoulder and confirmed, "Nah, I'm just f-----g with you man!"  He was genuinely happy to be there, and it seems like press junkets are - for him - an opportunity to collect his thoughts about the series, and help with his visioning for his character.  Recording his podcast promo spot, he stated "This is [Your Name Here], and you are listening to The Fringe Podcast" - because the prompter cheat sheet stated exactly that.  He would record the actual promo with his name a few seconds later.
  • Jasika Nicole ("Astrid Farnsworth") - To know her is to love her. She's the one cast member I interacted with the most that weekend.  Her brother-and-sister relationship with John Noble was evident all throughout that weekend.  She and I would remain in touch in private for some time after that.  She and I have the same favorite episode of The Office ("Dinner Party").
  • Kirk Acevedo ("Charlie Francis") - He's nothing like his more stone-faced character.  He and his family were at the junket, and I think he was taking in the entire Comic Con experience, glad to be a part of a well-received series.  The low point of the series - amongst the cast and crew - was when he was written out of the show later in 2009.  It made many of them uncomfortable, and their complaints about this move spilled into interviews.  Perhaps trying to make amends, the show found a way to write him back into the show later on.
  • Lance Reddick ("Broyles") - He's also nothing like his character Broyles.  He's all at once outgoing and empathic, and made everyone around him feel welcome.  He gave the best interview, and our conversation went so well that he waved off the assistant who had motioned "time's up" to him.
  • Jeff Pinkner (executive producer & showrunner) - Our interview got cut off because of time constraints (he had to be moved down to the panel which was a few minutes away).  After I handed him my card which stated I was the Fringemunks producer, he gave a "oh of course" look and stated, "I know who you are."  He was on top of checking on what fans were doing to promote the show.  He asked me for permission to somehow promote my work - I said yes, not knowing how he'd do it.  My best guess is the "David Wu" character was the Way - thanks, Jeff!

It was disheartening at times to see the show dwindle in audience-size from more than 10 million per episode, down to the low numbers it is garnering now.  Last week's episode, which aired just a week prior to tomorrow's finale, was the show's least-watched episode.

A show that was not afraid to take risks also may have fallen flat on its face a few times, but the fact it took risks is a redeeming factor in and of itself.  Ultimately, as a whole, those risks "work" as part of the overarching storyline.  The show, to its credit, evolved - and was a vector moving in a direction, rather than staying a comfort zone.

The show, in many ways, defines the transition from my 20s to 30s.  Things have come full circle.  I watched "Pilot" in my old bedroom in my parents' house, and will watch the series finale tomorrow in my new house in Covington - the site of a cancelled finale party (EDIT:  1 confirmed attendee - but ultimately cancelled just the same).

Though the finale will mark the end of an era, the series' effect and influence on the future has just begun.  The show is ultimately about responsibility:  taking care of the world, and of the ones we love.  It is also a time capsule of "science thought" in the early stages of this millennium.  Will the show gain more viewers after it becomes history?  Of course.  So I won't jinx anything, I won't mention another sci-fi series that is massively popular now, but had low TV ratings during its first-run broadcasts.

Also, fan labor will be rewarded in the future as well.  As new fans decades from now - and perhaps centuries from now - view Fringe as a classic TV series, they will latch onto the work that fans were creating during the series' run.

The legacy continues, for all.  Onward and upward.
David Wu is the creator and producer of The Fringemunks, who are recapping all 100 episodes of Fringe with song parodies.  Listen/download all of them here:

Follow on Twitter:  @DavidWuMusic / @Fringemunks


Old Darth said...

Excellent write up Dave! You really made the most of your Fringe fever both in giving and receiving.

Best Wishes!

Lou Sytsma aka OldDarth

@AgentFarnsworth said...

I enjoyed reading of your experiences and of how gracious the cast has been. I can only dream of such meetings.
I'm also ecstatic that you postponed your retirement and descided to finish parodying the entire series. I love them so much! Best wishes for your future. ♡♥♥♥ Thanks Fringemunks! I love you :) (from my twitter RP account)