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June 17, 2008

Fox's 'Fringe' leaked on BitTorrent

That summer rite of passage, the annual leaking of the pilots, is upon us. The reportedly $10 million pilot for J.J. Abrams' new Fox drama "Fringe" was put up on BitTorrent two days ago, according to an online search and user reports.

This year there's fewer pilots than ever to potentially get leaked due to the writers strike. But "Fringe," along with Joss Whedon's midseason Fox drama "Dollhouse," are among the most anticipated shows for fall. Alan Ball's HBO vampire series pilot "True Blood" is also reportedly leaked. "Dollhouse" isn't out there yet.

Fox was very careful with this expensive pilot, opting for private industry screenings rather than mailing out DVD screeners. The network sold the show to advertisers at a premium in exchange for episodes running with fewer ads. Once on BitTorrent, halting a file's distribution is pretty much impossible, though "Fringe" studio Warner Bros. is one of more aggressive and schooled companies on such matters.

Should be interesting to see the online reaction to Abrams' "Fringe." One report is calling it "a very entertaining show that oozes with quality and polish."

That's an accurate take, though the show will also have to overcome  unfair comparisons to Abrams' "Lost" pilot (Abrams personally directed the "Lost" pilot; experienced TV director Alex Graves shot "Fringe"). "Lost" is arguably had one of the best pilots ever made; the opening 18 minutes or so before the first commercial break fired a flurry of hooks at the viewer, and all of them took hold. Whereas most pilots merely serve as an inevitably uneven rough draft of what a series eventually becomes.

So "Lost" is an insanely high bar to clear for "Fringe," which likewise opens with a very nasty plane ride, but the comparisons end there (well, almost there, the opening title card seems to borrow from the "Lost" font family).

"Fringe" is about a FBI agent and a scientist teaming to investigator paranormal cases and easily clears the bar set by the recent network sci-fi themed pilots such as "Bionic Woman" and "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." 

The gory opening scene (very mild spoilers follow) --

-- could arguably be toned down to help Fox go for the broad audience it wants here. One is reminded of the “Twilight Zone” episode where investigators probe an empty plane that landed by itself at an airport. The less you know about what happened before that scene, the more creepy it plays and more viewers identify with the investigators’ anxiety.

The show also uses an interesting ongoing title card motif made famous by the opening credits of David Fincher’s “Panic Room.” Location titles seem to hover in midair when introducing various settings. Sure it’s a gimmick, but looks cool and works well with the show’s moody musical score (no credit was listed, but it sounded a bit like Michael Giacchino … okay, I guess the “Lost” comparisons are continuing after all).

The show solidly sets itself up as a procedural with an ongoing mythology. The leads are likeable enough, with “Lord of the Rings” alum John Noble being a particularly watchable addition. If “Lost” comparisons weren’t enough, the show will also have to overcome “X-Files” comparisons, which are more deserved, given the subject matter.

Teasing a play off the famous “X-Files” tagline, “the truth is out there,” near the end of “Fringe” a character argues that the FBI is no longer the best outfit to truly make a difference in the post-9/11 world.

“The truth … the truth is … we’re irrelevant.”   

But the two most successful sci-fi themed shows in modern history are “Lost” and “The X-Files.” So if “Fringe” is going to be compared to anything, those shows are a fine place as any to start.



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