Bovine inspiration at the FOX upfront

FringecowsAs I exited the FOX upfront presentation and spilled onto 55th Street Thursday, I saw just about the last thing I would have expected in Midtown Manhattan:

Cows. And not just a couple cows either, but a veritable herd of cattle, male and female, calves to full-grown heifers, brought in from a farm in New Jersey.

This, folks, is why for all its faults and frustrating scheduling and Moment of Truths, we can't help but love the sense of showmanship FOX tends to bring to events like this.

The cows have something to do with Fringe, the new J.J. Abrams-written and -produced series debuting on the network this fall. There was a brief shot of one in the trailer, hanging out in a derelict lab where, it's implied, a (literally) mad scientist (John Noble, King Denethor from the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King) did some unsavory things.

People in Fringe T-shirts were also handing out cards that noted that the difference between humans and cows, genetically speaking, is only a couple of lines of DNA. Other people in Fringe T-shirts were handing out apples, and there was a picture of a sliced-open apple on the cards.

So we have apples, cows and a bunch of people dying on a plane to open the show (what is it with Abrams and planes?), with overtones of a very large conspiracy behind all of it. Plus, it has Pacey and Daniels and a great big scope that will no doubt have J.J. disciples panting by the end of the two-hour premiere.

Curiously, Abrams himself spent the hour or so of the FOX presentation in the balcony, where the network usually just stashes the press. Joss Whedon, the creator of FOX's other sure-to-be-fanboy-object-of-worship, Dollhouse, was up there too. He spent part of the time beforehand reading (pretty sure it was Julie Andrews' memoir Home) -- which was rather charming in a room where seemingly everyone else was glued to a Blackberry.

Just why the two big-shot producers were way up there (as was the head of Warner Bros. TV), I couldn't ascertain; maybe the orchestra section was just really small. Their shows (which will undoubtedly be linked in a million stories -- like this one -- between now and the start of next season) were enthusiastically received, though, and FOX is doing a potentially cool thing it's calling "remote-free TV" with both of them.

Rather than the typical 17 to 19 minutes of commercials that normally make up an hour of network programming, Fringe and Dollhouse will have about half that -- for every episode. FOX says it's doing that because it wants to prove to viewers that it cares about them. Presumably there's a business reason for at as well, such as selling the shortened ad time as a prestige thing to big advertisers (so expect a lot of "Fringe, presented with limited interruption by Brand X" type of sponsorships). And presumably the promise of more show will keep some people from flipping channels, thereby keeping more eyeballs on Brand X's ad spots.

I still don't know what the cows have to do with it, but I'm willing to find out.

Do Fringe and/or Dollhouse have you excited? And really, what's with the cattle?