Pushing Daisies, ABC’s self-described “forensic fairy tale” about a man who could bring dead people back to life with the touch of a finger, was easily one of the most interesting and daring television shows in years.
Maybe a little too daring. Pushing Daisies, with its extremely distinctive visual style, was a critical and popular hit upon its debut, but its first season was cut short by the writers’ strike after only nine episodes. When it came back last fall for a second season, ratings were much lower, and the show was soon canceled.
Last Saturday, after a total of only 22 episodes, the network aired what had become the show’s series finale.
But what if the show, like Celine Dion’s heart, had gone on?
We decided to ask the creator, Bryan Fuller, who is also the creator of Dead Like Me, the co-creator of Wonderfalls, and the writer and co-executive producer of the well-received first season of Heroes (on which he is now working again).
What we discovered is that, in addition to being very talented and very prolific, he’s also a heck of a nice guy.
TheTorchOnline: So the last episode of Pushing Daisies turned out to be the series finale. But it looked like you were able to sort of wrap things up at the very end. How did that come about?
Bryan Fuller: We knew when we were shooting it that it was our last episode essentially. After we got into post and it was like, “Okay. That’s our last episode and it ends on a cliffhanger.” Because, as scripted, the last moment of the show was they open the door, and Chuck says to Vivian and Lily, “I’m alive,” and then it cuts to black. That would set up our back nine arc, which we were going to bring back George Hamilton as Ned’s father, and we just had so many balls up in the air that I was looking forward to bringing down and writing, but we just never got the opportunity.
In post, it was like, “OK, can’t end on a cliffhanger on our last episode ever,” so it really was a mad scramble to write and see if we could get the visual effects. We couldn’t roll film on anything because production was axed.
TTO: So you didn’t reshoot anything, that was all just footage that you had?
BF: Yeah, everything was footage that we had. For instance, Bill Powloski, who was our visual effects supervisor on the show and did such a wonderful job, really came through for us in this last episode. He went to all the houses that we had been dealing with over the twenty-two episodes of the show, and was like, “We have no money, but we’d like to do this sequence at the end to give some semblance of closure for the show. Can anybody help us?”
And everybody helped us. We had shots that were donated. We had the big shot of going through town past all the landmarks that we’d seen in the series. That was like a $90,000 effects shot that we paid $8000 for. They donated to us because they liked the show, and they were sad to see it go, and they were upset that we weren’t able to end it properly.
It was a really warm and wonderful that even the people and the visual effects houses who had contributed to the show were there right up to the last moment and willing to whatever they could to make sure that we had the best possible ending we could have under the circumstances.
TTO: How much of the series did you actually have outlined? The folks at Supernatural said they have a five year plan, and I’m always skeptical when I hear something like that.
BF: I figured I knew very clearly the rest of the second season, and then I knew what the third season was going to be.
TTO: What was the third season going to be?
BF: The Empire Strikes Back. You’re separating R2D2 and C3PO and sending them off into two different directions, and so that was going to be Chuck and Ned. Chuck was going to go off with the father, and Ned was going to try to chase her down.
That was the heart of it, and part of the thing that was going to be part and parcel of the third season was Chuck being exposed and what happens when part of your family shows up and says, “Just kidding! I wasn’t murdered on the beach in Aruba.”
What does she have to deal with in that situation, and obviously Olive was going to have this huge falling out. Those events that were in that last little snippet of [that last episode, called] “Kerplunk,” with that whole tale of how she came to open the Intrepid Cow, the macaroni and cheese palace, was going to be a huge arc for Olive, why she got there and what brought her to those circumstances.
I was really excited about telling those stories. I was excited about shifting the dynamics around with those characters. What would happen when Lily had to move in with Chuck because Vivian kicked her out. The plan was to keep Wendie Malick, who played Cora, Vivian and Lily’s AquaDarling rival, on as a reoccurring character for the rest of the second season.
There were all those little pieces, not to mention the pocket watches with Dwight Dixon, and Chuck’s dad and Ned’s dad, and Emerson’s daughter. It was just a crazy amount of material that kept generating story. It could have gone on for a while.
I could see how the various story threads were going to unfold over the next season and a half. I could honestly say I could see where we were going through the end of season three, then I was hoping that sometimes during season three, season four would occur to me. [laughs]
TTO: You’ve got the ultimate protection against Cheers‘ Sam and Diane ever getting together and sleeping together. They say that ruins a show.
TTO: Were you going to develop the love story, or were were they always going to stay physically apart?
BF: They were coming up with innovative ways to overcome the no touching, barriers like sheets of plastic dividing the bed and the car. We were going to see them develop romantically before it all blew up at the end of the season and Chuck ran off to see the world with her father.
The sexual aspect was never too big of a hurdle, because if I was in that situation, I’d throw on a plastic suit and start rubbing. There were ways around that. That seemed like the lowest hurdle of the relationship. It definitely created bigger ones down the line, but they kind of figured that one out. I figured if they didn’t figure that one out pretty quickly, it would be hard to really buy their situation as realistic.
I mean, really, he puts on a condom and you go to town.
TTO: Were we ever going to find out where this power came from in the first place?
BF: No. I had a really strong belief after seeing The Phantom Menace and hearing about midichlori and that’s why Jedi are special, it just left such a bad taste in my mouth that I wanted to keep the magic of “this is his ability and this is what he can do,” but there’s no why or where it came from, and he’s not going into why or where it came from, it’s just going to complicate his life in interesting ways. That was really a reaction to that first Star Wars prequel that really took the magic away from being a Jedi, and I didn’t want to take the magic away from what Ned can do.
TTO: Good answer. You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you were going to pitch Pushing Daisies as a movie and there was a comic book in the works. I know the comic book is happening, but did anything happen on the movie front?
BF: I think because the show wasn’t a huge hit, the movie is sadly unlikely. I think it’s a great film franchise, but good luck getting anybody to do any kind of movie these days, much less something from a failed television show.
The idea is to do what I was going to as a feature script, I’m going to do as a comic book story. Hopefully, there will be some success with the comic, and that might be able to generate some kind of film franchise future. It’s all very much a long shot, but it’s definitely something the cast really wants to do, I want to do, everybody who’s worked on the series. There’s such warmth from everyone who worked on the show that we’d love to get together again.
Right now, I’m outlining the comic, the first issue. I’m going through and breaking it out. We’ve got the comic series arc all shaped, and now I just need to go into the individual episodes and break them out in terms of box by box in the comic book. Then we’ll have that out by the end of the year.
TTO: Does it pick up where the series left off? We don’t have an origin story or start over again, do we?
BF: Well, it is a bit of an origin story, but not like the series. We don’t go through the introduction of the ability, but a whole new story starts. If you haven’t seen the TV series, you’ll get everything you need to understand the story in the first episode. In a way, it is a restart, but it’s not a reboot, if that makes sense.
TTO: As you look back over the series, the buzz was so great at the debut — it was the show everybody was talking about, and the reviews were great, and the ratings were good. And then there was the writers’ strike. When you look back at the whole series, is that what you think destroyed the show’s momentum?
BF: I really have to say it was the writers’ strike. We lost our momentum, we were off the air for almost a year, ten or eleven months we were off the air. As much as the billboards in Los Angeles and New York are great for the people who live in Los Angeles and New York, all the cities in between weren’t really aware we were coming back. Ten months is a long time to say, “Yeah, I remember that.” And people generally don’t.
TTO: And you can only be the fresh new thing everybody’s talking about one time, and then people move on.
BF: Exactly. I would say the writers’ strike didn’t do us any favors, even though initially it seemed like it did, but that was wrong. They kind of killed the show. So thanks, writers’ strike!
TTO: I just read Samantha Who, the same thing. I was shocked when that show was canceled.
BF: I was too!
TTO: Not only was it one of the best shows on TV, it was one of the breakout hits. The writers’ strike is a little bit like how the flutter of a butterfly’s wings has endless repercussions.
BF: Yeah, and Christina Applegate is so infectiously charming.
TTO: Who knew? Pushing Daisies was so different, and the fantastical elements were so unique, so unlike anything on television. Where did this come from? Is fantasy the kind of stories you were always gravitating to as a child?
BF: I love big brush stokes. I think Pushing Daisies told stories with a very big brush, but you could see the hairs of the brush within each stroke. It was just so much fun. It kind of took on a life of its own.
When I was writing the pilot, I had no idea where everything was going to go. That kind of took shape while we were filming the pilot. When I was writing it, I was kind of like, “Oh my God! Where is this going to go? What am I going to do? What’s going to generate the stories? How do I keep this from stagnating?”
Once you write it, and you’re on set, and you’re watching all the actors bring it to life like lightning in Frankenstein’s castle, it just takes on such a life of its own, it then becomes its own muse, if you follow. It really created its own universe. I can take responsibility for the pilot and all those characters, but once the cast steps into place and you get a team on board, everybody elevates it, and your understanding of the show is so fluid, and you become a passenger. Yeah, you could be driving, but you’re not always in control in terms of the story. That’s the very exciting part.
Right now, I’m developing new stuff, and I’m sort of thinking, “Oh my God. What am I going to do? Pushing Daisies was so good and fun and dense,” and then I think, “Well, it didn’t start out that way.” It started out with me trying to figure out what I liked about the characters. “Well, I think Chuck should be making honey for the homeless. What would a person like that do?” You just have to sort of go back in and build it brick by brick.
TTO: Are you working on any other fantasy or fantasy-esque shows?
BF: Right now, I’m working on two pilots for NBC, one is a sitcom and one is an hour-long. The sitcom right now has a very small flavor of magic, but it’s very grounded. It’s probably the most grounded thing I’ve written. I’m working on that. Hopefully, we’ll be taking that in to NBC in couple weeks. And I’m fleshing out an hour-long that is a little more genre, but hopefully I’ll be doing a few projects for NBC. I’ve got a pocketful of idea that I would like to see come to fruition.
TTO: In addition to your work on Heroes. My God, I don’t know how you have time!
BF: [laughs] I stay up all night.
TTO: There you go. I’m so sad that the show is no more, but on the other hand, that frees you up to do two new shows. Maybe they’ll both get picked up and we’ll get twice as much Bryan Fuller.
BF: Knocking on wood.
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