Having established his genre credentials with such offbeat fare as Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls, writer/producer Bryan Fuller revisits some of his favourite themes in Pushing Daisies. The quirky new drama, which debuted in the US on 3 October, stars Lee Pace as Ned, a reclusive pie maker with the power to bring the dead back to life by touching them, while a second touch returns them to oblivion. Ned teams up with private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), reviving murder victims to discover their killers and collect the reward, but after bringing back recently killed childhood sweetheart Chuck (Anna Friel), Ned’s life becomes much more complicated…
With production on the first season now well underway, have you got to the point where you’re basically just fine-tuning things now?
It’s fine-tuning and evolving. Where everybody was in the pilot, we have to build on their situations and relationships and continue to evolve and complicate them. One of the things that was a frustration working on Star Trek was that at the end of every episode, there was the magical reset button, so the things that people experienced in previous episodes had no bearing on their current adventures. There were exceptions, such as Picard and his rape by the Borg; we saw follow-up stories to that, but generally it was, ‘Tie that business up and move on!’ What we’re going to do on this show is counterbalance the procedural aspects. We’ll have the new fun case every week, which will be a little outrageous and push the envelope a bit in terms of how much fun and whimsy we have, so we’re doing cases that you wouldn’t see on CSI or any other show. But where we get into a serialised aspect is that those cases will be a metaphor every week for where our characters are. We have a case about a whistle-blower in a car company that manufactures a car that runs on dandelions, so the secret-keeping in the procedural story will reflect where Chuck and Ned are in their relationship, as well as the secrets they’re keeping from each other. All of our procedural cases will reflect where the characters are, so that’s how we’ve folded all of it into the Pushing Daisies omelette.
When did you decide to resurrect some of the ideas you originally had working on Dead Like Me and reshape them into Pushing Daisies?
I originally talked about doing it as a feature and pitched it a couple of times to 20th [Century Fox] Television when I was under contract there but they didn’t bite, so I put it back in my pocket and wrote a spec feature instead. At that point, I began thinking the next spec feature I was going to write should be Pushing Daisies, so I went in to talk about pilots with Warner Bros. I pitched a bunch of ideas, one of which was Pushing Daisies and that was the one they really latched onto. I’ve definitely pitched shows which I felt had great potential and seen the glassy-eyed response and it’s always unnerving, but this was definitely not that experience. There was a lot of eagerness to embrace it on the network side that was really comforting.
Your last couple of genre experiences, with the possible exception of Heroes, weren’t that great, were they?
It’s terrifying on one level, because you’re putting yourself out there and hoping that they understand your point of view. Even when all of the buzz was going on about Pushing Daisies I was like, ‘Well, we had a lot of great buzz about Wonderfalls too!’ The network was behind us and then we turned around and all of a sudden they weren’t there. We were lucky that it even aired, but that hasn’t been the case with ABC. Every time we look over our shoulders they’re right there, smiling, with a big thumbs-up.
Was it tough to leave Heroes behind in order to do this show?
There was absolutely a twinge of sadness, because it was such a satisfying, creative experience from beginning to end, unlike any other that I’ve had in television. I loved the cast and the support that the studio had for the show. The network gets the product out into the world and make sure that people watch it, while the studio is the one that produces the show and finances it. Universal really stepped up to the plate with Heroes and when we needed more money, they understood that it was in the show’s best interest. There were definitely times early on where they were threatening to shut us down if we couldn’t produce the show on the budget that they had, but after a couple of episodes they realised that the budget was wrong, and that we couldn’t produce the show on something that meagre. We’re hoping that Warner Bros gets to that point [on Pushing Daisies], but right now we’re really trying to stretch our dollar as far as we can.
Can you talk about the casting? Most of your actors appear to come from a classically trained theatre background.
One thing about our cast is that everybody is trained out the hoo-ha, except for Chi McBride who has that natural ability. He’s a very intelligent, intuitive actor who brings so much comedy and freshness to the show, but he’s really the only person who isn’t trained in the theatre. What’s really interesting is a lot of the actors we pulled in on Star Trek were classically trained, because there was a very theatrical nature to the Star Trek universe, and similarly with Pushing Daisies – it’s a heightened reality. It’s not quite theatrical but it definitely leans in that direction, and there is a use of language that definitely deviates from normal conversation, so we needed people who would be facile with that dialogue. Really, it was about people bringing their A game and impressing us, and we only auditioned two roles in the pilot; everybody else was offered, so that was kind of great.
Is there an overall arc planned for the series?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I know what the arc of the first season is going to be, and where we’re going in the second season. Until a couple of weeks ago I didn’t know what the third season was going, but I’ve just realised, ‘Oh, that’s where we’re going to go!’ It’s good to have a goal to swim to, but as you’re swimming, if you see a better horizon you can course-correct.
With so much of your time devoted to the current series, will you have any involvement with the Dead Like Me direct-to-video movie recently announced?
Things are great with Pushing Daisies, but I was very annoyed with the movie thing, because I felt that I created those characters and the circumstances. The situation was consistently handled so poorly by MGM that it was no big surprise that they didn’t approach me when they were contractually obliged to.
Do you feel you’re getting a bit more respect on Pushing Daisies?
I really couldn’t be happier. I feel like it’s the beginning of a great relationship and I’m looking forward to doing more shows with ABC. It feels like, ‘Okay, they understand this show!’ which creates the promise of good things down the road for that relationship, because right now it feels so great that I want to do it again, but for this network.