The creator and executive producer of Pushing Daisies is Bryan Fuller, who also created the short-lived, but much admired Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls. (He has also written for a number of series he did not create, including Heroes.) I recently visited Fuller on the Daisies set to discuss how the show came to be, his plans for its future and his thoughts about the enduring popularity of Dead Like Me, a series that ran for two low-rated seasons on Showtime and was cancelled three years ago but refuses to die.
Me: What was the genesis of Pushing Daisies?
Bryan: It was originally going to be a spin off of Dead Like Me. The second season arc was going to play like this: George was going to find out that somebody was swiping her souls and she wasn't able to stop them. Then she would discover that there was a guy who was touching dead people and bringing them back to life, and she would have a kind of adversarial/romantic relationship with him. Then he would touch her and she would come back to life and she would actually go back to her family for an arc of episodes. Eventually George would realize that she had left her job and that she needed to go back and be responsible; that she needed to grow up and do what she was supposed to do. The guy would then touch her again and she would go back to being a grim reaper — and he would go off and have his own show. That was the original concept.
When I left Dead Like Me to go do Wonderfalls I kept the concept in my back pocket. I tried to get it done as its own series a couple of times. I pitched it when I was at Twentieth Television and it didn't really spark anybody there. Then I went to Warner Bros. to pitch some ideas and the development executive hugged me after I told her [about it]. She loved the idea of "impossible love." That was the core of the pitch and the emotional center of the show. Everything that happens around Ned and Chuck is always informed by where they are in their relationship and their frustration with not being able to touch the person that they want to touch the most.
Me: So, it all came out of Dead Like Me.
Bryan: Yeah. In many ways it's the show that I wasn't able to do with Dead Like Me. It's one of those full circle things, where you do a project and you have to leave it for whatever reasons and then you get to come back and explore the same themes. There were so many themes and stories that I wanted to tell on Dead Like Me that I wasn't able to. Pushing Daisies actually affords me the opportunity to tell them.
Me: Are you making Pushing Daisies for the legions of fans that are pining for Dead Like Me?
Bryan: Selfishly speaking, I'm doing it for myself first and foremost, because when you have stories you want to tell inside you, you have to find some sort of vent. Otherwise they dissipate. I always like to write things that I would watch, so in a way that is true because I think I am the Dead Like Me audience member as much as I am the guy who created the show. I'm doing Pushing Daisies because I want to watch Pushing Daisies. I fall into the demographic that a lot of Dead Like Me fans do, in terms of the kind of television I like to watch. So the answer is yes, with a caveat!
Me: Some of your fans are worried that Pushing Daisies might suffer the same fate as Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls, since there are so many similarities between them.
Bryan: I'm hoping the third time is the charm! One of the things that will be helpful for Pushing Daisies is that a lot of road has been paved for the show between Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives. There is an elevated reality to those shows. They kind of bridge the gap between the reality of Pushing Daisies and standard television fare, so it doesn't seem like it's such a dramatic change of pace from shows like those. I'm hoping people will be a little more open to going on a fantasy ride and enjoying it as opposed to looking at it and saying it's not what they are used to or attracted to.
Me:Pushing Daisies was well received right from the start in May at ABC's upfront presentation. Most critics have picked it as the best new show of the fall season. Is that intimidating?
Bryan: I take it with a grain of salt because I think back on the Wonderfalls experience, where we were really embraced and supported by the critics but we just didn't have the support of the network to get behind us and shepherd us through the premiere. There was a time when we weren't even going to air! This feels like a different experience because we do have the enthusiasm of ABC behind us. That goes a long way. Part of the success of Desperate Housewives and Lost when they came out that year is they were launched like they were major motion picture events. Exposure is a big part of it. If we can get exposed to people and they sample us hopefully they'll stick with us.
Me: The stories in Pushing Daisies are set in the present, but in each episode you're going to flash back to the story of Ned's unusual childhood and tell that in chronological order. How is that going to work?
Bryan: Every episode will open with an anecdote from Ned's childhood, a small story that will provide a thematic umbrella under which we tell the rest of the episode. In the second episode we'll see Ned using his gift to torment some bullies and lying about it. The episode is all about secrets and lies and how we learn to keep them. In the third episode Ned figures out the whole 60-second rule; that he actually did kill somebody else [in the pilot] when he brought his mother back from the dead. It's him not wanting to take the responsibility for that because then he has to take the responsibility again when he brings Chuck back to life and someone else has to die.
Me: That's a lot for a 9-year-old boy to process.
Bryan: I think when you see a 9 year old grappling with such huge, heady, philosophical issues and then you see [series star] Lee Pace as the adult version of that child you already have so much more sympathy for what Ned's journey has been than you would have without knowing how he started it. For me it's a great way to lay an emotional foundation for the rest of the episode so you know what his point of view is on the experience.
Me: There is a lot of comedy in this show. There are some scenes and lines in the pilot that are funnier than anything in any of the new comedies this season.
Bryan: The show's not a comedy, and I'm not really a comedy writer, but I am consistently amused by life. There are a lot of amusing things that happen to us every day whether we want them to or not, and whether we can actually stop and laugh at them at the point we're experiencing them or not. I think that's where the humor comes from on the show — the absurdity of life as opposed to set up jokes. We'll definitely carry that throughout the show, because life is absurd.
Me: What can you tell me about the upcoming Dead Like Me direct-to-DVD movie?
Bryan: I think it's a way for them to wrap up the show. Ellen Muth, Callum Blue, Jasmine Guy and Cynthia Stevenson are the returning cast members. Nobody ever contacted me about it.
Me: Why do you think that show struck such a chord?
Bryan: I think there was something very relatable about someone running from life. I think a lot of us everyday run from experiences as opposed to embrace them. That was really a big thing in Dead Like Me. It was also a big theme in Wonderfalls and it is in Pushing Daisies. You want to embrace life and not run from it. Too often we forget that there are experiences all around us that we're not having because we're too interested in going home and getting into bed and relaxing. There are so many opportunities we can't afford because we're living with blinders on and it's hard to look over the hedges and see what's out there.
Me: We're too busy to enjoy simple things.
Me: Like a perfect piece of pie.
Bryan: Exactly! When I'm writing at home and it's sunset I always try to go out and just take five minutes right as the sun is going down, so I can be there for that arc, just to stop and take it in. It's kind of rejuvenating because it's pretty and you forget that there's all sorts of pretty that isn't contained within the square of the television.