'Fringe' Cancellation Rumors: Executive Producers Talk Fans' Fear, What's Next For Peter (EXCLUSIVE CLIP)

Thanks to baseball pre-emptions and winter hiatus, it's been two months since the last time "Fringe" (Fridays, 9 p.m. EST on Fox) aired in our universe. Given its knockout of a midseason finale (literally -- Nina Sharp and her Massive Dynamic lackeys gassed Olivia into unconsciousness and dosed her with Cortexiphan at the episode's climax), fans are understandably anxious to see what happens next.

I've seen this Friday's episode, titled "Back To Where You've Never Been," (which just so happens to be the episode that was filming when I visited the set last October) and I'm happy to report that it's one of the strongest of the season to date. You'll get a clearer idea of how Peter intends to return to "his" Olivia, new alliances will form, and in true "Fringe" fashion, there will be plenty of twists to keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. The last five minutes, in particular, are not to be missed.

To whet your appetite, above is an exclusive preview clip from the episode that sheds a little light on Peter's cunning plan. And if that isn't enough "Fringe" goodness for you, executive producers Jeff Pinkner and Joel Wyman gave more details in a wide-ranging phone interview earlier this week.

Besides the revelations in this week's episode, the pair talked about the season's overall arc and weighed in on Fox president Kevin Reilly's ominous proclamation at the network's Television Critics Association press day that "we lose a lot of money on the show" -- prompting many fans to wonder if cancellation isn't far behind.

On Sunday, Kevin Reilly managed to cause a panic among fans by pointing out that the show isn't making Fox any money and that it's once again in danger of cancellation -- what was your reaction to that?

Joel Wyman: I mean, it's funny -- if you remember, ever since we moved from Tuesday nights, people have been saying that we're gone, but here we are. We've consistently said that the network has been transparent with us always. We have no reason to believe that we're not in the same game that anybody else is in in the world of television. You've got to get numbers; you've got to do a certain number; how much does it cost to make the show? The question becomes, "Is there a way to make 'Fringe' that makes financial sense?" Jeff and I are both producers that always and have always rolled up our sleeves in order to be financially responsible. You never know.

The most important thing is the following: We're not changing our plan, nor have we ever. We know where we're going every season. We believe that the most important thing to our fans is to leave them satiated and to make them feel like there's an ending that they can wrap their minds and hearts around and say, "I love that ending. I totally understand. I feel like I've watched an incredible saga and it's come to a natural conclusion that I believe in." That's our main goal. At the end of each season, fortunately for us, we've always closed a chapter and opened up a new one. We have ideas where we would go if there was a fifth season and a sixth season and a seventh season. There's plenty of story to be told. The question is, can we close a chapter and allow it to be a finale that lets everybody in their hearts go on and say, "I can imagine where it would have gone, but yet, I feel strangely satisfied." That's what we feel we have right now. We're not going to change anything. We're going to tell the story that we've been telling since the beginning. We feel that if we were the viewers and we were presented with an ending like what we have, that we would be very satisfied.

I know that you guys have always said that you've got six to eight seasons' worth of material planned out, but that you've always had an ending in mind, which is a lot more reassuring than some shows that kind of draw things out without really knowing where they're going.

JW: Yeah, since the beginning we've been setting the table for an ending that thematically makes sense, that puts the whole thing into context, re-contextualizes what you've seen, and makes you feel okay. It makes you feel like, "I love these people. I've given them so many years of my life and I really feel like everything is where it should be." That was our major plan this year in designing the season. So, if we're lucky enough to get something new, I mean there's plenty of direction that we've already discussed ... We have some things that are really far out and really fun and intriguing, compelling, but if we don't get the chance, like I said, our main concern was our hardcore fans.

Kevin Reilly told fans that he couldn't bear for them to start a letter-writing campaign, but I've heard from a lot of fans asking what they can do to help the show. Do you have any suggestions?

JP: The truth is, to a degree, as Joel said, there's some horse trading involved. Some people were shocked by the announcement; the good news is, we were not. To a certain degree, Warner Brothers produces the show for Fox; there's a license fee involved. That is always up for negotiation every year. It's what the studios and the networks do, they haggle over who's going to pay for the show and how much. Then, as Joel said, it's our job to produce the show for the budget that we're given or that we're asked to produce the show for.

As far as what can fans do ... the only real way to affect this decision is to watch the show live. We recognize that many people sort of program their own week and watch all television on DVR, so we're certainly not in the business of begging our fans to save the show by watching live. But that's always the thing the fans can do. The good news is, even in Kevin's statement, creatively they're thrilled with the show. We're not in a situation where the network or the studio are asking us to go in one direction and we're kicking and screaming and refusing and this is about creative differences. It's not at all. We've had, as Joel said, the same degree of support at the network and the studio since we began ... We're so entirely grateful. At the end of the day, it's a business decision. I think that what our fans can do is not freak out, feel secure in the knowledge that we're very, very happy with the story we're telling. We're not freaking out and if things change, we'll let them know.

JW: Have you ever met anybody with Nielsen box? I have not.

Never, actually. I've often suspected they might be a myth.

JW: Yeah, and we know lots of people, combined, I'm sure. So, if they exist ... [Laughs] No, we know they exist. But here's the thing, in our opinion, it's an antiquated way. I wish that there was a better way, because you know our [demo] number goes up to 1.9 on DVR, which is really good for Friday night. For a while there, I think that we commended the Twitter-verse and our Fringedom fandom that they were sort of writing letters or contacting the sponsors and advertisers directly and saying, "Look, I watch DVR. I don't have a Nielsen box, but you have tremendous taste because you're advertising on 'Fringe' and that allows me to want to buy your product." I think if I was somebody in that division in sales, I'd say, "You guys are pretty devoted." I mean, that's great. Does the network hear that? Not really. The truth is, I just wish there was a way in DVR that people could say this is a new way of counting an audience. [Editor's note: On Jan. 11, a report was released that only one-third of audiences are watching TV in real-time in the U.S. The majority are watching either via Internet or DVR.]

JP: But I think what we're very happy and pleased about continues to be the degree of creative support that we get. We make a very adventurous television show, which all things being equal would likely not be on a network. And yet, we are and they stuck with it at every twist and turn -- at two universes, at Olivia being captured and replaced by Bolivia, at Peter disappearing and then returning at The Observer. We consider ourselves so amazingly fortunate to be able to tell the kind of insane storytelling that we do, always grounded in emotion, which is sort of why we're on a network. We just look at each other and our staff and our production team and our actors ... We have an astounding group of people who are doing work that makes us really happy. None of us have any intention of ending it soon.

Now that Peter exists again, he's becoming more and more convinced that he's in the wrong place or timeline, and that there must be a way for him to get back to "his" Olivia and Walter. Can you confirm that his instincts are correct and that getting back is an attainable goal at this point?

JP: Well, Peter obviously has returned to a timeline where none of the characters know him because in the timeline that he has returned to, he died at age eight ... twice. So, as far as he's concerned, he's Dorothy -- sorry for the sex change -- who has awoken into Oz and he's trying desperately to find his way back home. Certainly, that's his goal. As we say and as we've said, one of the major thematics of this season is sort of like the effect that your life has had on other people. So, we're meeting a version of the characters that we've known, that Peter knew, unaffected by his adult presence. It's been really interesting to us to explore how his being there, being with them, affects them.

JW: When we first decided that the storyline was going to be where Peter would disappear as a consequence to what he had done, we knew very well what the thematic elements were that we wanted to investigate this year, and what we were trying to say together as artists about the way we see the world right now. We're really, really interested in the concept that life is valued by the connections that you make and the impact you have on others and what impact do they have on us: How do they make us better people? How do we make other people better for knowing us? We just think that's really something worthy of writing about. So, as the season progresses, you're going to really start to see and understand many more aspects and facets of that thematic direction. Everybody made such a huge deal when Peter disappeared, either they loved it or they hated it -- but there was a reason. Now, I guess you'll understand and comprehend the reasons why we did it.

Jeff and I were actually shocked that people would think for a second that we would have one of those sequences where, poof, the character is gone and everything that you knew about our characters and everything that you learned didn't really happen or is gone. We would be terribly frustrated if we came across that, being fans of television ourselves. So we would never in a million years do that. What we were really trying to do is have the audience really understand that all this stuff really did happen -- "I'm with Peter and I'm in his shoes; I want him to be able to experience what he's lost. I want to get back there and I want those relationships. I know that he belongs with Olivia. I want him back with Olivia -- I don't know how, but he's got to find his way back." That's what we had always intended, so we were a bit shocked when people thought, "They just erased a couple of years of character history." It's not true. That's not what our intention was, nor is it where we're going.

"Fringe" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. EST on Fox.

Look out for more of our conversation with Pinkner and Wyman next week, and feel free to weigh in on "Fringe's" current storyline and your hopes for the show's future in the comments below.

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