J.J. Abrams Lures Casual Sci-fi Fans to 'Fringe'

Along for the ride are Dunham's boyfriend and fellow agent John Scott (Mark Valley); her stern boss, Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick); and the manipulative Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), an executive at a mysterious corporation run by Walter Bishop's former lab partner.

Jackson plays the resident doubter, with a dash of the sarcastic humor he displayed as Pacey Witter on teen drama "Dawson's Creek." "In a show like this there has to be a skeptic," he says. "You need someone to be the voice of the audience going, 'That just doesn't make any sense.' "

But eventually, he says, "you fall into a Mulder and Scully land where it's like, how can she still be so skeptical of this world — and I was a huge 'X-Files' fan — after eight seasons, when she's seen so much proof to the contrary?" Peter comes to "believe in the science, he just doesn't believe in the methodology."

His eccentric-genius dad is key to the puzzle: "Something happened 17 years ago where he was put into a mental asylum, solitary confinement, shocks, drugs," Noble says. "He's really stuffed. He has short-term memory loss. What you have is these flashes in and out of his memory and his lucidity."

Fox sees flashes of a sci-fi-tinged hit it has been seeking since "X-Files" left the air in 2002. That show, along with "Twilight Zone" and "Twin Peaks," served as a big inspiration for Abrams and his team of writer-producers led by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who worked on "Alias" and wrote "Trek" and "Transformers."

More 'sci' than sci-fi

The two have mapped out the show's ending: "We know what the pattern is; we had to know what it was all leading to," Kurtzman says. "It's something that can be revealed whenever we want to," in 13 episodes or 13 seasons, depending on the show's success.

Fox immediately jumped at the chance to be in business with Abrams. "We heard the one-liner —'Indiana Jones' meets 'X-Files' — and that felt like a Fox show to us," says entertainment president Kevin Reilly.

As for the lead roles, "these are not three stiffs," says network chairman Peter Liguori. "They are three characters who are incredibly colorful, with faults and neuroses and just surprises."

The network is providing a big theatrical-film-style marketing push that began last May. "This is a big event, and that's what Fox does well," Liguori says. And it's the first to get Fox's "Remote-Free TV" treatment: fewer, shorter commercial breaks that will expand each hour-long episode's content by six minutes, to about 50, in a move designed to reduce DVR skipping. (Tuesday's premiere will run 83 minutes.)

Abrams says Fringe is more "sci" than "sci-fi" in that its stories dwell in the realm of the possible, however remote.

But "his shows become a victim of their own success," Jackson says. "Especially 'Lost,' which has an almost frighteningly rabid fan base. People take the show so personally that if they feel like it's deviating from their own understanding of it, they're going to be personally insulted. It's harsh because they're your greatest fans and the trumpeters of their shows … but they're almost inevitably going to be pissed off because they're not the writers."

"I know the pitfalls we can fall into," he says, "but I'm so excited to be working in sci-fi. This show is right up my alley."

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