Pushing Daisies had one of the most unfortunate rides of a TV show in recent memory. After a promising start - high ratings on both sides of the pond, critical acclaim by the bucketload - the show was yanked off the air just nine episodes into its first season when the writers' strike took hold. When the series finally returned a year later, the viewers had tuned out - and the inevitable axing soon followed. In our exclusive chat with creator Bryan Fuller, he reveals where he think things went wrong and talks about the future of Daisies away from the small screen.
Coming back after the strike for season two, did you feel the need to reintroduce the show or start afresh?
"I think there's always a certain amount of that that needs to be done. You can't completely throw an audience into a world like Pushing Daisies without some details of how it got there. So I think the first episode back had a bit of a primer in terms of the world but it felt like the right amount - I didn't think it was too much or too little. I tried to strike a balance without overburdening the episode with exposition!"
How did the strike affect your storytelling plans for the show?
"In one sense it helped us because there were stories that we wanted to do at the end of season where the network was like 'that feels like a season two story'. Actually the writers' strike allowed us to tell those stories sooner because we were like 'well, it's season two now!' These were things like bringing Chuck's dad back, etc.. At the end of the first season, Paul Reubens and his character Oscar Vibenius smelling something different about Chuck - that was supposed to be a four or five episode arc that we had to cram into one episode! We didn't really do a great job of cramming."
Do you think ABC did enough to relaunch you when you returned for a second season?
"I don't think ABC really did anything to keep us alive in terms of viewership - they didn't reair any of the episodes from the first season, they didn't do a leadup into it, so there was absolutely no viewer awareness. Then by the time we returned, people had forgotten about us. For the many viewers who weren't in a major metropolitan area, there were no billboard campaigns so they didn't know we were back on the air."
After the strike there was enough room in the schedule for most shows to come back for up to six or seven episodes. ABC opted not to bring you back but relaunch you in the Fall. Was that the right decision, in hindsight?
"In terms of what they knew at the time, I think everybody underestimated the audience erosion from the writers' strike. They didn't have a crystal ball to say 'this is what we should have done'. I think honestly they thought they were doing the best thing for the show by keeping it off the air. If you remember all those shows that came back in the Spring, when they did they tanked. They just got their asses kicked! We would have come back right smack against the American Idol finals, so we would have been creamed. I'm not sure there was a best case scenario for us in that situation!"
As season two went on, the audience tuned out. Why do you think that was?
"With this show being as specialised as it is, it's a very unique world. I think the show creatively in the second season was as good as - if not better than - the first season, so it was just that if people did sample it again, they weren't completely aware of who we were and what we were doing. On one occasion we went out at 9pm in the States, and our numbers spiked by 3 million viewers. Of course after that we asked to move from 8pm to 9pm, but we were a Warner Bros. show for ABC and the 9pm hour is reserved for ABC Studios real estate. Unless you're produced by ABC Studios you don't get those coveted timeslots. The network will always prioritise its sister studio. So there were a lot of challenges for the show!"
After the cancellation there was talk of moving to another network - how far did that get?
"I think we were so heavily branded as an ABC show, no other network was interested. It wouldn't really fit on NBC, it's just not their cup of tea. The show was so specifically cultured as an ABC show that it got to the point where it didn't really belong on another network. If we had started off as an NBC show, it would have had the ingredients that NBC likes their shows to have - for instance, we would have skewed slightly more male and had a little more violence and gore. I love those things, so I wouldn't complain about them!"
It does feel like it could have been an HBO show, though...
"Oh it would have been lovely to go to HBO but once again, the mentality of the network is sloppy seconds, unless their sister studio owns the show - for instance with Scrubs and ABC."
The final episode plays out in the States in a couple weeks. Do you think fans will be happy with the conclusion?
"I think it is satisfying. It is certainly an ending that was created in post. It was originally a cliffhanger and the ending was a cut to black moment, where you were supposed to be able to tune in next week and figure out what happened next. Obviously we didn't have a next week! So basically we created an ending in post using existing footage, the narrator and digital effects to give closure to the story. Aunt Lily and Aunt Vivian become the hidden Dorothys of the series. We can't really wrap up Ned and Chuck in five minutes, so their story goes on. We have a comic book coming out in the Fall which will continue their story. I really wanted to end their story in the future with a kiss and a big cut to black. I just didn't have the storytelling real estate to do that [in the finale]."
As for the comic book, what are the plans for that? Is it a way to wrap up the loose ends from the series or is it an indefinite future for Pushing Daisies?
"It's a 12-issue order. It will do both! One of the disappointments for me was that I wasn't able to wrap up the story of Chuck's father and Ned's father - and those pesky pocket watches and what they had to do with the mythology. Once again that was supposed to be episode 14! So it became apparent that if we were going to do the comic book, we should launch it with a story that would be a two-hour movie told over three comic book issues and then use that as a platform to continue telling the story. It's going to be much more ambitious than we were able to pull off with a television budget. The people who watch the TV show will be totally satisfied and the ones who are new to the world of Pushing Daisies will be welcomed in a very clean way that doesn't require them to have all the baggage from the TV show."
Pushing Daisies season two is out on DVD now.
Add your comments to this entry below!