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6 YEARS

PaleyFest: 'Fringe'

Fringe cast The TV industry's perception of Fringe still runs behind the reality. When Fox debuted the paranormal drama last fall, the early consensus was that Fringe was creatively OK (but not great) and considerably aided by its powerful House lead-in.

Fox kept the show off the air whenever a strong lead-in wasn't available, protecting it, so when Fringe returned with the best lead-in on television, American Idol, and drew strong ratings once again, some thought: Of course Fringe is successful -- Idol props up the show.

Except Fringe has gotten better since its early episodes. Much better. And even though Idol has softened the past couple months (as it always does this time of year), Fringe has maintained strong numbers. At some point, one has to accept that after 17 episodes, Fringe viewers are not merely House or Idol fans who keep forgetting to turn off their TVs. Give the Fox series the credit it deserves: Fringe is a hit.

"I would rather be a part of a show that aims for best-ever and comes in second-best-ever, than aims for mediocrity and achieves its goal and I think that’s what a lot of television does," declares Fringe co-star Joshua Jackson, drawing applause.

At PaleyFest, producers took questions from the audience and screened February’s "The Transformation" episode (check out its pitch-perfect opening scene below and compare it to the opening of the show's pilot -- very similar ideas, vastly improved execution). The cast and producers seem completely comfortable with each other, often derailing the conversation with jokes. No major revelations, but there's a few items of interest:

-- On Leonard Nimoy being cast on the show to play the mysterious William Bell, Fringe co-creator J.J. Abrams described Nimoy’s arc as including multiple episodes – "not as a regular, but part of the cast."

"He hasn’t signed up for just one episode, I’m not going to say how many," Abrams said. "Working with him was intimidating and wonderful [on Star Trek]. It didn’t even occur to me I would get to work with him again."

-- On whether the show's iconic title cards such (as a leaf or apple) actual mean anything.

"It’s relevant," co-creator Roberto Orci said. "It’s a theme marketing came up with that we’ve incorporated into the show. But the order of the symbols at the end of the show does mean something. There is a secret code."

-- Producers reveal Fox tried to get The Observer to stand at Barack Obama’s inauguration as a publicity stunt, but couldn’t pull it off. 

-- Jackson called his character a "release valve" for tensions in the show. "I don’t think he is a moral person. But because he’s amoral he’s able to stand aback and note when people are acting immoral. I don’t think he’s particularly concerned, but he’s the one that points it out."

-- Abrams on the importance of Jackson’s character and convincing the audience to buy in to the reality of the show: "I think was an audience you want to go the crazy place, that insane and impossible place and see the dinosaurs. And you have to have the voice of the audience [Jackson's character] ... to comment on the absurdity ... once you comment on the absurdity you can have the absurdity."

-- Regarding American Idol, producers express their gratitude for the reality hit's lead in, though one panelist joked, "there can be no good without evil."

-- On what is the function of the cow in Walter Bishop's lab, producers suggest its just a funky choice of set design, though one notes: "We did talk about doing an episode where there's a voice overand we wouldn't show who it is [talking]. And then at the end of theepisode the camera pans over to the cow and it says, 'Thanks forwatching 'Fringe.' "