the transmedia of fringe

After five seasons, two universes, and multiple timelines, Fringe ended its run January 18, 2013 on Fox. I’m proud to say I stuck with this show to the very end. More than anything – like other fans – I connected with the cast’s phenomenal performances. When the sci-fi was good, the show was great. When there was more “fi” than “sci,” the actors buoyed the show to the next peculiar portal.

FringeTeam

For those unfamiliar with Fringe, it follows a team of FBI investigators in the “Fringe Division.” Not unlike The X-Files, Fringe had a case-of-the-week structure with a dense, over-arching mythology spawned from most of the cases. At the heart of the mythology was the story of Walter (John Noble) and Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), an estranged father and son who – with the help of FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) – grew to love each other. Add lab assistant Junior FBI Agent Astro…I mean, Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), and Special Agent-in-charge Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick), and you have the Fringe team. Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), COO of Massive Dynamic, a corporate entity frequently responsible for the bizarre events the team examined, often aided the team in their investigations. Oh yeah. And bald man who wore a suit and fedora observed them. His name was September (Michael Cerveris).

Now that the show is over, I decided to compile as many of its transmedia extensions as I could in one place. Like Lost, another J.J. Abrams production, Fringe created a rich storyworld in which fans delighted throughout its five seasons. From viral videos and comic books to Easter eggs and science education, Fringe stretched its tentacles around numerous platforms.

I’ve done my best to keep story descriptions vague and spoilers to a minimum; however, there are a few. If you wish to keep completely in the dark, proceed no further. And watch the show.

SEPTEMBER’S NOTEBOOK: THE BISHOP PARADOX

Let me start at the end. My impetus to create this compilation grew after I learned Bad Robot, J.J. Abrams’ company which produced Fringe, is publishing a book from the show. Unlike the “The Lost Encyclopedia,” a post-show summary book about another Bad Robot production, Lost, “September’s Notebook” actually appeared in episodes of Fringe.

Throughout the series, a group of twelve bald men took notes about Earth’s history. Named after months of the year, the one called September followed the Fringe team, detailing their every move in a notebook and gradually becoming more attached to them. The Observers were an enigmatic element in Fringe’s mythology, and Fox harnessed that mystique in marketing campaigns, both commercially and virally. Fringebloggers.com has a great history of the Observers’ appearances.

SeptembersNotebook

Interestingly, the notebook comes from the same writers who created “The Lost Encyclopedia,” Tara Bennett and Paul Terry. Being friends with Fringe executive producer Jeff Pinkner, Tara sent “The Lost Encyclopedia” to him, hoping to do something similar with Fringe. Both Jeff and executive producer J.H. Wyman loved the idea. They assigned Noreen O’Toole, who works as a producer on transmedia projects at Bad Robot, to work on the extension. Together, they imagined several options, and Warner Brothers chose “September’s Notebook.”

Recently, Tara and Paul spoke in-depth with the Fringe Podcast about the year-long creation of the notebook. Most of the details I’m sharing come from that interview, which you can listen to here:

The most exciting facet of the notebook is that it isn’t just a translation of September’s writings. The book includes artifacts September collected and placed inside for safe keeping. The authors are attempting to put the fan in September’s shoes. Touch what the characters touched. Feel what they felt. It is a tactile and interactive augmentation on what fans have already seen to give context to the series.

Fringe’s showrunners always tried to honor the feedback their fans offered. After the backlash from the Lost series finale, it felt as though Fringe creators didn’t want a repeat of last time. With the notebook, they’re attempting to thank fans from all over the world by treating them as Easter Eggs. Fans that used #FringeFridays on Twitter get a special shout out in the book.

That is how you connect with fans. Listen to them and speak with them – not at them. Fringe fans have changed how social media affects the longevity of a show. “September’s Notebook” is a way to thank them for going above and beyond.

THE OBSERVER LANGUAGE

One of the more controversial aspects of the show is the Observer language. Initially created by actor Michael Cerveris, who played September, Fringe eventually imbued the random symbols he scribbled with meaning. The producers frame “September’s Notebook: The Bishop Paradox” as a translation of the language written in the notebook.

Fringe fan Drew Crawford wrote a nice post on his disappointment of discovering that many of the Observer words are gibberish; however, the symbols are still a fun frill on the Fringe mythology.

You can even download “The Observer” font at Dafont.com.

GLYPHS

One of the first big Easter eggs Fringe disseminated to viewers starting with the first episode was the glyph cipher. The glyphs appeared leading into each commercial break. Each had a variation of a glowing yellow dot in one of the picture’s four corners.

FringeGlyph

It took the better part of the first season for someone to decipher the code, and Julian Sanchez was the guy who did it. Each glyph corresponded to a letter of the English alphabet, and together, the letters spelled a word that corresponded to a character or a theme related to that episode.

VIRAL VIDEOS

To prepare its audience for the drastic shift in tone of season five, Fringe released a series of public service announcements…er, warnings…from The Observers. They directed fans to the now defunct rewardwire.org, where they could engage with the story.

The videos also included the hashtag #AreYouDonald?, a reference to an unknown ally of the resistance, and who the Fringe team sought for most of season five.

COMIC BOOKS BY STAFF WRITERS AND CAST

Before the pilot even aired, Bad Robot created content to prep their new science fiction series. The Fringe Preview Comic” is the prequel to a six-part Fringe comic book series that cover stories prior to the series’ pilot. From WildStorm Productions, they distributed it for free at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2008.

The second series of comics “Tales from the Fringe,” was a six-issue miniseries that featured a different main character on the show that added to the show’s mythology.

BeyondTheFringe

The third installment did something unique. The producers let Joshua Jackson – one of the show’s stars – write a series of comics. “Beyond the Fringe,” offered alternate universes not seen on the show. There were 12 individual chapters divided between six ‘A’ stories that tied directly to the show storyline and six ‘B’ stories postulate a ‘what-if’ tale. The ‘what-if’ tale even goes as far as to make Peter (Jackson’s character) into a superhero who protects the citizens of “Boston City.” For real.

RedLanternArrowMockCover

One other trivia tidbit I enjoy: DC Comics published the second and third volumes, and the show carried over a shout out to its red alternate universe storyline on television, in which the “Red Lantern” and “Red Arrow” are DC comic characters.

EDUCATIONAL COMPONENTS

One of the lesser known aspects of Fringe is its partnership with the non-profit organization Science Olympiad during seasons 2-4 in which they offered lesson plans for science teachers. “The Science of Fringe” inspired lessons that use the episodes to teach about hard science.

You can download lesson plans here.

ARG & IN-SHOW WEBSITES

Several seeds planted the series back in 2008.

The Massive Dynamic website of the fictional, monolithic corporation that touches everything in the Fringe universe is still up and running. It offers a peek inside this probably sinister company, including mock press releases you can download. It also led to an ARG that Jonathan Waite covered on ARGNet.

Fringe launched a scavenger hunt at the 2008 Comic-Con in San Diego, and an online sweepstakes began at the now dead, imaginetheimpossibilities.com.

Fringepedia.net. has a detailed list of all the rabbit holes.

FAN ART SOLD FOR CHARITY

If you watch or read interviews with the showrunners or cast of Fringe, fans are almost always acknowledged with a heartfelt thanks. Everyone involved with production knows the opportunity to see Fringe through to a satisfying conclusion was a rare and wonderful television event. Often, the showrunners shifted the plot of the series because of fan feedback. This is most evident in season five, where numerous fan favorite episodes made cameos – or became integral plot points, as in the case of “White Tulip.”

g1988_breakingbad_french

“White Tulip” by Anthony Petrie

In January 2013, Jensen Carp of Gallery 1988 curated the “Fringe Benefits” exhibition. Known for showing art inspired by television shows, like Breaking Bad. With “Fringe Benefits” co-creator J.J. Abrams and his team asked viewers to judge 31 episodes. The top six episodes acted as inspiration for artists to create work. Limited edition prints were sold online, and proceeds went to The Mission Continues, which awards community service fellowships to post-9/11 veterans.

Fan favorites are sold out, but a couple prints are still available.

JUST FOR FUN

One of the best things about Fringe was its sense of humor. Typically, Dr. Walter Bishop was the character tickling ribs. Having lost his mind and lived in a St. Claire’s Mental Institution for 17 years, his wild perspective was always fodder for fun. Also, his frequent LSD and THC trips made for some of the series most imaginative and goofy episodes.

During the first season, Fringe was establishing their characters. A wild way to share intimate moments with Dr. Bishop was through silly supplementary shorts in the style of Jack Handy’s famous SNL “Deep Thoughts” called “Deep in the Lab by Walter Bishop.”

ALL FIVE COMPLETE SEASONS

At the foundation of all these bits and pieces is a great television show. If you haven’t checked it out, you can watch the entire series through Amazon. The fifth and final season DVD drops on May 7, 2013. Pre-order it here. Amazon Prime also has Fringe Seasons 1 through 4 to stream online at Amazon Instant Video.

If you’re a Netflixer, you can get disks mailed to your house.

SOURCES

I’m sure I missed something. Over five seasons, there have been tons of bread crumbs scattered across the Internet and real life. If you know an aspect of Fringe‘s transmedia swell I missed, please sound off in the comments.

I must thank all the sites dedicated to this now classic television show. They archived tons – tirelessly writing, recording podcasts and observing Observers in the background of scenes – for five seasons. Kudos for your devotion. I enjoyed your commentary nearly as much as I did the show, itself.

fringebloggers.com

thefringepodcast.com

fringetelevision.com

fringepedia.net

seriable.com

fastcompany.com

wired.com

speaking for our time

Last month, I celebrated the first year of marriage with my wife. We didn’t have a lot of money or time to plan a big getaway, so we borrowed a car and headed up to The Berkshires for an overnight stay in a Super 8 Motel. Not knowing the area, we hopped online to research what fun we might find. We discovered The Norman Rockwell Museum is in Stockbridge, MA just twenty minutes away from our motel. I was super excited at the chance to see the original paintings made famous by so many Saturday Evening Post covers.

“Coming and Going”

My wife was interested, but didn’t share my enthusiasm.

“We have to go!” I insisted.

She conceded, and we embarked upon what I can only describe as a magical afternoon.

It may seem odd that I was so insistent on visiting the museum, but Norman Rockwell is a childhood hero. My father owns Monical’s Pizza Place in Canton, IL, and when I was in junior high, my mother and he redecorated the small restaurant. They chose to cover one wall with Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post wallpaper. The pizza place was my second home, and that wall spurred me to learn about and fall in love with Norman Rockwell.

Typically, I’m not a nostalgic person. I don’t yearn for my youth. For some reason, though, Norman Rockwell turns me to a 14-year-old again. I look at his work with wonder. He had a way of capturing life that photographs don’t. Now, I was going to see his original paintings

If you look at his work, it’s not exact. Sure, the faces look almost like the photographs from which he worked, but he’s fabricated the scenarios. He was a storyteller; a curator of life, plucking people’s faces to put in his paintings and tell tales about certain times and places. Sometimes, they are iconic, like the family around the dinner table at Thanksgiving in Freedom from Want.

Other moments are highly political and charged with dissonance of the day, like The Problem We All Live With, depicting the real-life Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African-American girl, walking to an all-white public school in New Orleans, LA on November 14, 1960. President Obama displayed it outside the Oval Office for the first three years of his presidency. That’s how important this painting is.

It all deeply impressed my wife. She’d always viewed Rockwell as an art director of magazine covers. A commercial artist who created hazy, iconic Americana. Certainly, at first glance, his oeuvre can feel like this, but the deeper you look, the clearer it becomes: He was a great artist who reflected the times in which he lived with immense passion.

Dario Fo, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1997, said, “A theatre, a literature, an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time has no relevance.”

Norman Rockwell spoke for generations. His images still influence artists today. Just two weeks ago, The New Yorker riffed on The Tattoo Artist, a painting of a man receiving a tattoo where he’s crossed out his previous girlfriends and adds a new one. The satirical illustration, Skin Deep, is by Barry Blitt and featured Mitt Romney having old political positions that no longer suit his platform crossed out for new ones.

He also influences painters, like comic artist Alex Ross, who has his own exhibition “Heroes and Villains” at The Norman Rockwell Museum from now until February 24, 2013. To commemorate Rockwell, Ross painted a portrait of the master specifically for this exhibition. Unsurprisingly, he chose to portray Rockwell as an American hero, draped with an American flag.

“Norman Rockwell” by Alex Ross

Norman Rockwell’s attention to detail and subtle storytelling boldly spoke for his own time. That isn’t an easy to do. Often, I see young artists bent on portraying their own lives, which often leads to self-indulgent psychological work to which others cannot relate. As artists, we must seek truth in others and do our best to curate stories that change the way humanity sees itself. Through empathy, we can see others and, hopefully, make a better world.

All photos were taken by me on my iPhone, except for the Alex Ross image, which was found on his website: www.alexrossart.com