At a computer dotted with action figures and surrounded by the "Addams Family Values" soundtrack music, Bryan Fuller created "Pushing Daisies," the most original, should-be-a-hit new TV show of the fall.
BURBANK, Calif. —
At a computer dotted with action figures and surrounded by the “Addams Family Values” soundtrack music, Bryan Fuller created the most original, should-be-a-hit new TV show of the fall.
ABC’s “Pushing Daisies” tells the story of magical, whimsical, romantic pie-maker Ned. Ned grew up in small-town Coeur d’Coeur and, as a boy, he discovered he could resurrect the dead.
Fuller, 38, is an ordinary human, but with unique talents of his own. His vivid imagination was birthed, in all places, teensy Clarkston, Wash. (population: 18,000. Go Bantams!). He was the youngest of five in a household dominated by the letter B: electrician dad Buck; floral designer/housewife Betty; and siblings Brad, Brenda, Becky and Brett.
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And, no offense to friendly, sunny Clarkston, but there wasn’t even a movie theater in town. (And there still isn’t.) So the kid who thrived on watching “The Twilight Zone” and who’d read sci-fi books under the covers even though it was bedtime used to hop on his bike and cross the Snake River to twice-as-big Lewiston, Idaho, to catch a flick.
Clarkston, with its paper mill, Arby’s and Taco Time, lacked oomph. And from early on, Fuller itched to leave. “I knew I was going to. I just hadn’t charted the escape route yet.”
A talent for tracking
When he was about 15, Fuller hoped his ticket out might be Anne Rice. Yes, Rice, who penned the story of fabulous, immortal Lestat in her cult book, “Interview With A Vampire.”
Fuller, who’s good-looking, shaggy and as friendly as a golden retriever (a dog that is supersignificant in the “Pushing Daisies” yarn), sits in his office at the Warner Bros. studios in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. He recounts his quirky, Rice-related story:
After reading “Vampire,” Fuller decided right then that he should be the one to author any movie adaptation. Somehow he tracked down Rice’s number and, hardly lacking in confidence, pitched her the idea.
“She couldn’t have been lovelier,” he says. “She could probably tell I was a kid, but she took the call and we talked about writing and I asked, ‘How do you do it?’ And she said, ‘Sometimes I just make it up.’ “
She then told him Oscar-winning producer Julia Phillips actually had the film rights. So Fuller, in turn, tracked down Phillips, reaching her at home. He laughs at the memory.
“I’m this kid calling up this big Hollywood producer. And after about the fourth time, she said, ‘OK. You can’t call me anymore.’ “
Phillips died in 2002, but not before Fuller happened to run into her and thanked her for being so nice. She vaguely remembered him, he says. But he’s not the type to belittle or discount any gesture no matter how small.
“Something, somebody just saying something, can shift our destinies,” Fuller says. “Which is a really good argument for not being an agoraphobe.”
Fuller graduated from Clarkston High in 1987. And one day at Lewis-Clark State College, after Fuller explored the psychology of the movie “Alien” for an assignment, a teacher turned and asked: Uh, why are you here? Why aren’t you in film school?
The next day the teacher brought in brochures for USC and, well, you can pretty much figure out what happened next.
… Or maybe part of it, anyway. While attending USC (he eventually dropped out because he couldn’t afford it), Fuller says he was watching episodes of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” when the concept of how to write a script suddenly clicked. “It just snapped into focus,” he says. The clarity of the storytelling. The development of characters. Fuller wrote some scripts on spec, sent them to the producers and got invited to meetings.
He had always been (no surprise) a fanatical “Star Trek” fan, and that passion, along with his smarts, landed him a job writing for the show. He also wrote for “Star Trek: Voyager.”
“I had been living, breathing ‘Star Trek.’ I would dream about stories and interacting with the cast, and then it happened. I was working on the show. I felt there was something. There is something to imagining yourself someplace and then finding yourself there.”
The human touch
That theme of destiny, along with notions of mortality and higher powers, would eventually mark Fuller’s first, and short-lived, TV creations: the quirky, dark “Wonderfalls” (on Fox in 2004), in which inanimate objects speak to a young woman, and “Dead Like Me” (on Showtime in 2003-04), also quirky and dark and centered around George, a teenage girl killed by a flying toilet seat who emerges as a grim reaper.
“I love horror movies. I love all the big action sequences. But the stuff I like to write does have a sweetness to it just because I think those are the real gems in humanity. And I don’t like to be constrained by reality. So I like to set those sweet moments in fantastical settings because if there’s something sweet, no matter where it takes place, you can still relate to it because it’s just human.”
“Does that sound pretentious?” He laughs.
Now, a year after working on “Heroes” as co-executive producer and writer — “He’s got such a unique voice, and he was key in developing some of the humor in the show,” show creator Tim Kring said in a recent interview — Fuller’s launched his third quirky, dark and visually arresting show, “Pushing Daisies.” It premieres at 8 p.m. Oct. 3 on KOMO/ABC.
A sweet touch
Remember this time last year, when TV offered so much doom and gloom?
“The Nine,” “Kidnapped, “Standoff,” “Day Break,” “Vanished” — and all of them were snuffed. Network execs killed off “Jericho” as well, until some rabid fans went nuts and convinced them to revive it. (The show returns midseason with seven episodes on CBS).
Now look what’s on this year’s slate: charming big-box store workers (“Reaper,” “Chuck”), nerdy high-schoolers (“Aliens in America”), career- and relationship-exhausted men (“Carpoolers,” “Big Shots”).
(For a list of what’s worth watching this season, see the accompanying story, page K4.)
Paying heed to the freshman success of the supernatural “Heroes,” plenty of new shows embrace the abnormal. A time-traveling journalist. A bounty hunter for the devil. A bionic woman.
But still, the most promising new shows, even those dusted with magic, blush sweet.
Speaking of sweet …
The “Pushing Daisies” pilot is a visual, emotional treat: direction by Barry Sonnenfeld (“Men In Black”); narration by Jim Dale (the reader in the U.S. “Harry Potter” audiobooks); plot threads about synchronized swimmers and a murderous chow dog; and close-ups of strawberry pies, a valley of yellow daisies and two youngsters sharing their first kiss.
Ned (Lee Pace, who played Aaron in “Wonderfalls”) can touch the dead once and bring them back to life — but only for one minute. If he doesn’t then return them to death with a second touch, if he allows them to live, someone else dies.
This gift/curse complicates Ned’s romance with his childhood sweetie Charlotte “Chuck” Charles (played by Anna Friel), with whom he reunites after she’s found murdered in the sea. Further complicating the love affair: the affection-hungry waitress Olive Snook (Kristen Chenoweth, the Tony winner who, yes, will break out in song in a later episode. And the diminutive actress has a genius backstory: a jockey!).
Chuck’s resurrection must be kept secret from aunts Lily and Vivian (Swoosie Kurtz, Ellen Greene), former synchronized swimmers with “matching personality disorders and a passion for fine cheese.”
And the fairy tale is wrapped up in assorted, weekly murder mysteries — Chi McBride (“Boston Public”) plays Detective Emerson Cod, who’ll eventually take up knitting.
The show’s central location: Ned’s Pie Hole bakery.
“It’s a big delicious pie,” Fuller says about the architecture, now standing inside his fictional bakery at the Warner Bros. studios. The bakery lamps are shaped like giant cherries. And, Fuller is explaining, there’ll soon be a machine on the counter plopping out big balls of ice cream.
“What’s not to love?” he asks, with a look on his face of I-got-to-lick-the-batter-bowl glee.
“It’s all very surreal,” he says. “Daisies” is housed in the same soundstage where “A Star is Born,” “Wonder Woman” and “Arsenic and Old Lace” were produced. It says so on the building, and the fact has not gone unnoticed by Fuller.
“It’s such a fantasy. You think, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun?’ and then you’re here, and it’s hard not to recognize it and appreciate it.”
Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or firstname.lastname@example.org