Abrams' 'Fringe' is Fox benefit

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It might be called "Fringe," but this script was smack in the center of every network's radar screen for the past several months.

After a heated bidding, Fox landed the sci-fi spec by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci with a big series commitment.

No one would comment on the terms of the deal, but sources said it includes a budget for the two-hour pilot for about $10 million -- the ballpark of Abrams' two-hour pilot for "Lost" -- as well as an episode license fee close to $2 million.

The pact also includes a digital component mirroring the template of WBTV's groundbreaking recent agreement with ABC.

"Fringe," which Abrams' Bad Robot is producing with Warner Bros. TV, centers on a young female FBI agent who, forced to confront the spread of powerful and unexplained phenomena, must work with an institutionalized scientist whose life's work may be at the center of the coming storm.

"Science is frightening and enlightening at the same time," Orci said. "It can give you everything, and it can destroy you."

The industry circles have been buzzing all summer about the top-secret spec script that Abrams was writing with Kurtzman and Orci. It marked the first TV writing duties for Abrams in more than three years, since ABC's "Lost," as well as the return to television of Kurtzman and Orci, one of the hottest feature writing teams at the moment.

Like everybody else, Fox's entertainment chairman Peter Liguori and president Kevin Reilly were tracking the project, and even by the very vague logline floating around, felt it was "bull's-eye for Fox."

WBTV sent out the script to the networks Monday night. By Tuesday morning, Liguori and Reilly had read it.

"It was exactly what we hoped for," Reilly said. "There is a track record of this type of show working on Fox, and these creators have proven themselves with this type of material."

Fox has been trying for years to develop a successor to its hit sci-fi drama "The X-Files."

Kurtzman and Orci first worked with Abrams on "Alias," his drama for ABC, and went on to write "Mission: Impossible III" with him. They also penned Abrams' upcoming movie "Star Trek." In fact, it was between production meetings on "Trek" that "Fringe" was born and written.

"We took all the elements we love about genres such as horror and adventure and gave it an emotional center," Kurtzman said.

The three list as influences David Cronenberg and the 1980s films "Altered States" and "Real Genius."

Casting on the two-hour pilot is expected to begin shortly, with production slated to wrap by year's end.

With "Trek" going into production shortly and Kurtzman and Orci also tapped to write the sequel to the blockbuster "Transformers," which they also penned, it is not clear who will run "Fringe." But Fox execs are not worried.

"One of the great things about those guys is they put their heart and soul into their projects, so they're not likely to be sending their precious child to boarding school quickly," Liguori said.

Indeed, Abrams plans to be hands-on, especially in the casting the three main characters: the FBI agent; the scientist, described as a mix of Einstein and Dr. Frankenstein; and his grownup son, with whom he has a dysfunctional relationship.

Would he cast old favorite Keri Russell as the lead?

"I can't stop casting her," he quipped.

"Fringe" marks Abrams' first project outside of the Disney family.

"It is a nice opportunity to work with Fox," he said. "I felt for a long time that it is compatible with the things I'm interested in."

Under his overall deal with WBTV, Abrams also recently landed a put pilot commitment at ABC for "Boundaries," a one-hour comedy to be written by Jill Soloway (HR 10/4).

He has a couple of other projects percolating, too, but they may not go out soon.

"I want to realize the projects we've got in the best possible way, so I'm not going to add too many things to the plate," Abrams said.

Abrams is repped by WMA. Kurtzman and Orci are repped by CAA.
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