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JJ Abrams at the Fox Party on Fringe, Star Trek 2, Undercovers and some new shows

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TCA - President of Entertainment Kevin Reilly and Fringe's JJ Abrams
TCA's - President of Entertainment Kevin Reilly and Fringe's JJ Abrams celebrates at the Fox 2011 All Star Party at the Villa Sorriso © 2011 Fox

I had the opportunity to speak with JJ Abrams at the Fox-TCA party at the Villa Sorriso Restaurant in Pasadena.

He was there promoting his series Fringe, which is moving to Friday night, not something the creator/producer/writer is necessarily happy about. Also on the negative side, his series Undercovers was cancelled following lackluster ratings.

But Abrams has lots of other projects coming up, and I got to speak with him about all of them.

How do you feel about the move to Friday nights for Fringe?

Fringe, Season 3 - Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and John Noble
Fringe, Season 3 - The Fringe Division team: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and John Noble © 2010 Fox Broadcasting

Oh, I’m horrified beyond belief, but as a fan of the genre and the show, I’m hoping that fans will tune in. I certainly can promise that it will be worth their while. The episodes that are coming up are spectacular.

I guess you can just be hopeful and say that, if the work is good enough, it will find the audience. I think they’re doing better work now, even in the second half of Season 3, than they’ve ever done on the series.

Do you see an upside to the change in nights at all?

Just in that I’ll start drinking more. No, I don’t see an upside because the audience on Friday nights is harder to find. But, that’s not to say that they aren’t there and that we might not be able to make it there. Certainly, I would be lying to you if I said I’m thrilled about the move.

What I am thrilled about is that the network has been incredibly supportive and, despite its move to Friday, they’ve been nothing but encouraging of the show. It’s still on the air in its third season, and it’s not easy to do that.

What are your thoughts on what happened with Undercovers?

Underovers 1.01 - Tanoai Reed and Boris Kodjoe
Underovers 1.01 Pilot - Russian Man (Tanoai Reed) and Steven Bloom (Boris Kodjoe) © 2010 NBC Universal

I’ve got to say, I feel like it was unfortunate. Of course, I completely blame myself for the entire thing. The conceit of the show was to do a much more frivolous, fun show, but ultimately, I think it was just too frivolous and too simple, and we didn’t go deep enough.

We were really desperately trying to stay away from mythology and complexity and intensity and too much serious, dark storytelling and, ultimately, that’s not necessarily what I do best. I think audiences felt that it was a little bit lacking. I see that and completely take responsibility for its failing.

Did it surprise you that the demographics for that show skewed so much older than expected?

Yeah. All around, it unfortunately just didn’t work the way I wanted it to. I especially feel for the actors, who are incredibly talented and wonderful. The directors we got, the editors and the crew were awesome.

The idea that I would somehow squander really talented people’s time and take them and us away from our families and other work we have to do, it was a real heartbreaker.

How did you feel about the end of Lost? Were you happy with it?

Oh, my god, I thought those guys just did an incredible job. It was really beautifully done.

Did you have any input?

No. I watched them do an amazing job without me, and I didn’t want to upset the balance. Seriously, they didn’t need my help. They did an amazing job.

Do you have anything else in development for network television right now?

TCA: Behind the scenes at the Fox 2011 All Star Party at the Villa Sorriso
TCA - Behind the scenes at the Fox 2011 All Star Party at the Villa Sorriso © 2011 Fox

We do. We have a few projects. We have a show for Fox called Alcatraz, that starts shooting on the 19th, which I could not be more excited about. And, we have a show for CBS called Person of Interest that Jonah Nolan wrote. We have Odd Jobs for NBC.

We have a new script called Pulp that was written by Alison Schapker and Monica Breen. That’s a spectacular script. We’re about to go out with that.

What’s the status of Odd Jobs, with Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson from Lost?

A script is being written right now. The intent would be to make the pilot for this season.

Is Alcatraz actually about Alcatraz?

Alcatraz does involve Alcatraz.

Will it be shot in the actual prison?

Some will be, yes. There are sets being built, but there will be some of the pilot shot in San Francisco at Alcatraz.

What is the series about?

I don’t want to give anything away because no one wants to hear that, but I will say that it’s a beautifully written and surprisingly emotional script, although not surprising when you know that Liz Sarnoff wrote it. She’s amazing.

The show is about an incredibly odd and mysterious turn and secret about the prison of Alcatraz, and a modern-day mystery that involves something very odd that happened there 50 years ago.

Who have you cast?

The cast is unbelievable. It’s Sam Neill, Sarah Jones, Jorge Garcia from Lost – who was the first person we cast and is just the greatest with an amazing role – and Johnny Coyne, who’s an amazing English actor. We have a spectacular cast. I’m really excited about the show.

Do you have a date by which you have to decide whether you’re going to direct Star Trek 2?

Star Trek (2009) - John Cho and Chris Pine
Star Trek (2009) - Captain James T Kirk (Chris Pine) and Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) © Paramount

That’s a good question. I probably do. I don’t know. There’s a script that should be coming in.

What’s the biggest proponent of that decision for you?

I guess the idea of not wanting to choose to direct a film, for which I’ve not read a script. It’s a tough decision to make without seeing any pages. That’s not to say that I don’t have all the faith in the world in the spectacular writers.

Damon Lindelof, Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman are awesome. My hope is that they’ll write the script, it will be great and we can make a fun, exciting sequel to Star Trek.