Fringe, New Spooky Series from J.J. Abrams and Associates

October 5, 2007–Fox is investing money and thought into “Fringe,” the spooky series by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, as a kind of “X-Files” for the new generation.

Fox has made a commitment to Warner-Bad Robot production, which will start with a two-hour pilot budgeted at more than $10 million. Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci, who created Paramount's new “Star Trek” feature, wrote the project on spec and then shopped it to nets this week. The trio will exec produce “Fringe” along with Bryan Burk (“Lost”).

“Fringe” mixes elements of “The X-Files” and Paddy Chayefsky's “Altered States” with what Abrams calls “a slight 'Twilight Zone' vibe.” It will focus on brilliant but possibly crazy research scientist Walter Bishop, his estranged son and a female FBI agent who brings them together.

The episodes will explore self-contained mysteries of the paranormal, as well as the relationships between the three leads. “The story is about relatable people in extraordinary situations,” Abrams said. “It's definitely a nod to 'Altered States' and 'Scanners' and that whole Michael Crichton/Robin Cook world of medicine and science.” A mythology will come into play from time to time, as well as a healthy dose of humor.

“It does the stuff my favorite TV shows and movies do, which is to combine genres that shouldn't fit together,” Abrams said. “It's definitely meant to scare the hell out of you, but it's also meant to make you laugh. It pushes all the buttons of things we loved from our childhood.”

Driving the show will be the Walter Bishop character, a larger-than-life figure who bears some resemblance to the titular character in Fox's “House.” In the pilot, he's in a mental hospital.

“Imagine that your father is Frankenstein mixed with Albert Einstein,” Orci said. “He's someone who has the mental ability to solve so many problems but is so different that communicating with them is almost impossible.”

Fox Entertainment chairman Peter Liguori said he's been circling “Fringe” for months, starting with a meeting he had with Abrams in February. Project hadn't taken shape yet, but Liguori knew he wanted to be in business with the hyphenate.

Abrams said he and his co-creators didn't want to go the usual development route and pitch an idea without a script. “We wanted to write the script we wanted to see on the air and just put it out there, rather than pitching something that may or may not result in the show you want,” he said.

There are now three projects at three different nets centering on characters exploring freaky mysteries like “The X-Files.” CBS has greenlighted the series, “11th Hour,” which is based on a Brit format (Daily Variety, Sept. 19). ABC has ordered six episodes of the Zak Penn-produced “Section 8,” which involves a team of investigators with mental abnormalities.

“Fringe” marks the first series commitment for Abrams since he signed his mega-deal with Warner last year. Abrams has turned in a pilot for HBO but is still talking to the cabler about the fate of the project. Kurtzman and Orci, who worked with Abrams on “Lost,” are now readying a sequel to their summer smash “Transformers.”