DATE October 2, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Journalist Seymour Hersh on the Bush administration's
reformulated plan to bomb Iraq in a more targeted manner, and
The United State's reputation in the Middle East
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The Bush administration has ordered a
new plan for a possible attack on Iran and it's changed the justification for
such an attack. This is what Seymour Hersh reports in his article "Shifting
Targets: The Administration's Plan for Iran" published in the current edition
of The New Yorker. Hersh also writes that President Bush and members of his
administration have redefined the war in Iraq as a strategic battle between
the United States and Iran. Hersh has been writing in The New Yorker about a
possible military strike against Iran since April of 2006.
Seymour Hersh won a National Magazine Award for Public Interest in 2004 for
his New Yorker pieces on intelligence and the Iraq war. He broke much of the
Abu Ghraib story. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1969 reports on the My Lai
massacre in Vietnam.
Seymour Hersh, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You say that this summer Vice
President Cheney asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to redraw the long-standing
plans for a possible attack on Iran. What is the new plan?
Mr. SEYMOUR HERSH: The new plan very simply is--technically it's called
counterterror vs. counterproliferation. In the old days--that is, before
this summer--all of the planning that was done for hitting Iran--as you know,
there was extensive planning, it's been written about for years--was aimed at
the nuclear entities of Iran as we knew them. The underground facilities, the
facilities known to have been inspected, etc., etc. They were all targeted,
massive targeting, as somebody once said, "1,000 points of light." We were
going to hit any nuclear-related area in the country. And that included not
only in Tehran itself but also three or four known places where they do
enrichment, etc. and research.
And the theory behind that hitting was--the public theory--was Iran's close to
a nuclear bomb, and this is a threat that nobody in America would want, and
this is an issue that likened, before the war in Iraq, the notion of a
mushroom cloud. This is an issue that would really penetrate and resonate
with the American people. Well, it didn't happen. The American people,
according to what I've been told, the White House believes they've never
really be able to sell the idea that Iran is an immediate nuclear threat.
So what they've done in the last few months--and once I mention it, you'll
know what I'm talking about--it's been a great deal of talk about the Iranians
being responsible for our debacle in Iraq. It's Iranians being involved and
providing the equipment for the little bombs, the IEDs that blow up American
soldiers, providing arms and other kinds of support, not only for the Shia in
the southern part both of Iraq--you know, Iran is also Shia--but also for the
Sunnis, and also at various times, the White House even suggested the Iranians
are supporting al-Qaeda, which is a very, you know--the Sunni terrorist group.
So, simply put, that argument is getting some traction with the American
people, and also, more importantly, with some of our allies, particularly the
Brits, the British.
And so what they simply did is they decided they're not going to hit
everything big. They're going to keep an option for a surgical strike,
hitting only the--what they call the terrorist trainee camps across the board
in Iran that are training the Sunni insurgency--so the White House claims--and
hitting the Revolutionary Guards who have been painted in very harsh terms by
this White House as sort of a terror force, and they've actually trying to
legally describe them as a terrorist group, have the State Department declare
them and such. So we're going to change the targeting.
GROSS: You said part of the reason for invading Iraq was to change the Middle
East, bring democracy there, watch that spread. And you're saying now the
Bush administration is acknowledging that Iran, or at least some members of
the Bush administration are acknowledging that Iran has emerged as the
geopolitical winner of the war in Iraq. How?
Mr. HERSH: Well, because...
GROSS: And is that part of the reason, do you think, for these plans to
Mr. HERSH: Look, the best guess is--one of the things they've come to terms
with, by the way that's really important is they now accept the intelligence
that says that the Iranians are pretty far away from a bomb. The
International Atomic Energy Agency--IAEA--in Vienna, headed by Mr. ElBaradei,
has been saying that. They've been saying, `Yes, they're making progress but
they're nowhere near as far along as you Americans think.' And now it's clear
that--at least the White House accepts now--by the White House, I mean Cheney,
Bush, et al., the core there--they accept that there's no bomb coming in the
next two years, although it's still arguable that Iran may still be a threat.
I'm not suggesting they're not interested in a bomb, but they're nowhere near
it. So they accept that. And so why are they pushing this?
Well, the issue has been all along--it's been a really strong issue all along,
very early after the war began in the June of 2003, the American intelligence
community was trying to tell the White House that Iran is there big-time. The
position of the neoconservatives, etc., the realists in the White House who
advocated the war was that we're going to support the Shia, we're going to
empower the Shia and diminish the power of the Sunni. That's the game plan.
And don't worry about the Shia and their long-standing relationship with Iran.
After all, Iran and Iraq fought a war. The Shias in the south are going to be
loyal to the state of Iraq.
Well, from the very beginning there were questions about the strong ties
between the two that were dismissed out of hand by the White House. Well, now
it turns out the Shias in the south want nothing to do with the Sunnis and not
very interested in the Kurds and will very happily go off and be a nexus to
Iran. Of course, Iraq's going to stay as an entity, and of course there's
going to be a lot of individualism. There's just no question that the ties
between the two, Iran and Iraq, the southern part of Iraq, where Basra is the
headquarters of, the vast south is incredibly close to the Iranians.
GROSS: What messages have you learned that the Bush administration has been
sending to Iran behind the scenes?
Mr. HERSH: That's a tough question, because it constantly comes out, I
constantly hear--I was just having breakfast this morning with somebody--that
there's a lot of contact between the two sides that we don't know. But the
messages I really do hear explicitly are very tough. Bush really is very
tough. He's sending messages--the message he gives the Iranians, `Shape up
or, you know, we're going to kick your butt,' basically. `Shape up or we're
coming after you.' It's been very tough stuff.
And, you know, we just had a negotiation with North Korea that was a
successful negotiation on the nuclear issue there and what did the Americans
do? The United States' position was very rational. We're going to talk to
you about diplomatic recognition. We're going to talk to you about a security
guarantee. We promise not to come and bomb you. And we give that to the
North Koreans and we got something for it. What do we offer the Iranians?
Three aircraft carriers in the Gulf. That's what we offered them. We don't
talk to them. We don't make positive suggestions to them. All we did is
hector them. And the basic negotiating position we have on Iranians', you
know, nuclear enrichment, which has been going on for years that they're
negotiating about, our position is, `You stop all enrichment and then we'll
have a conversation and talk to you about stopping.' That's our position.
GROSS: What do your sources in the military and in the intelligence community
telling you about a possible attack on Iran? And here's what I mean. Do your
sources in the military think we have enough military to deal with it and deal
with the aftermath of it? And do you intelligence sources have enough
security to justify an attack?
Mr. HERSH: Well, that's always a big issue. Right now, one of the things
that the White House has done by proposing this new option, this surgical
strike--and we should be clear that there's been no order to do a strike, and
they could well do, you know, `Let's bomb everything to the smithereens and
bring them back to the Stone Age.' This is just an option. This option has a
lot of traction, not only because it attracts some foreign leadership who are
interested in it. It's much less--it's more tolerable and more explicable.
You can explain your bombing, the Iranians who are only killing Americans and
British and other coalition forces.
Inside the military, it's interesting, because this is called the third way by
some military people. That is, it's a choice between doing nothing and
hitting everything. This is a more rational--you hit those camps that we
believe are sending stuff south and, yes, there was more support in the
military for this. It would involve some special forces on the ground, which
is always tricky. It would involve incredibly good intelligence.
There's new leadership in the military that people don't pay much attention
to. There's a new chairman, Admiral Mullen. Peter Pace, about whom I've
written before, is someone who really objected a year ago, to any possible
nuclear adjunct, to any planning, and really offered--he and other officers
said they would resign, quietly, just retire early. He's gone now, and all of
a sudden you have a new member Chairman of the Joint Chiefs about whom the
public doesn't know much, as I said Admiral Mullen, who is out of the Navy,
and all of a sudden the new proposal we have right now includes a much bigger
role for the Navy in any attack. This limited bombing would include Navy
F-18s flying along with Navy Cruise missiles. And that puts the Navy back
where they haven't been. They're not a big player in this war, and it puts
them back on the table.
GROSS: Have your sources in the military and the intelligence community
expressed concerns about unintended consequences if we do this surgical strike
Mr. HERSH: I would say "express concern" is very mild. They share the same
trepidation that many people outside the military share, which is this. The
assumption is we're going to toggle some bombs. We're going to hit Iran with
a limited hit. The other side of it is we're going to ask our Western allies
immediately--the Germans and the French--immediately go to Iran and say, `Do
not respond, do not respond. Let's negotiate. Let's get to the table on
this.' That is the plan, that's one aspect of it. And the assumption is that
the Iranians will withhold and not attack.
And, in fact, the word you hear from most of the experts is that as the
Iranians are planning an attack, they are going to attack what they call--the
textbook term is asymmetrically. They're not necessarily going to
hit--respond to the United States or to Israel. They're going to attack other
targets--oil targets. One of the things they are very interested in doing
would be to drive up the price of oil--well over $100 and a few attacks on
some of the Gulf oil countries that are vast producers--all of their
facilities are out in the open would cause enormous damage. You could also
blockade the shipping lanes. There's a shipping lane to the Far East, and
there's a shipping lane to the Straits of Hormuz that are very narrow. The
Iranians could certainly put mains there and curtail the flow of oil. And
like Saddam Hussein, who had months and years to prepare for an attack, they
And I'll tell you right now, the insurgency we see in Iraq that we saw right
away was not spontaneous. It was planned. It was planned by Saddam, much of
it, and I think the same thing would happen here. We've given the Iranians
really a year and a half or two years of intense threating. We've been
threatening constantly. We've given them a great deal of time to think of
innovative ways to strike back.
GROSS: My guest is Seymour Hersh. His article, "Shifting Targets: The
Administration's Plan for Iran," is in the current edition of The New Yorker.
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Seymour Hersh. In the current edition of The New Yorker
he reports that the Bush administration has ordered a new plan for a possible
attack against Iran and has changed the justification for such an attack.
I was reading about this new conservative group. I was reading about them in
The New York Times. The group is called Freedom Watch. Apparently this month
they're going to sponsor a private forum of experts on radical Islam. They're
expected to make the case that Iran poses a direct threat to the security of
the United States, and the president of the group, Bradley Blakeman, said, "If
Hitler's warnings were headed when he wrote `Mein Kampf,' he could have been
stopped. Ahmadinejad is giving all the same kind of warning signs to us and
the region. He wants the destruction of the US and the destruction of
Israel." That's the head of this new group, Freedom Watch. He's not saying,
`So target Iran,' but it seems to be what he's saying between the lines that
Ahmadinejad needs to be stopped. So are there other groups that are on board?
Mr. HERSH: Well, sure. In the article I quote Norman Podhoretz, the
editor-at-large for Commentary magazine, who's been writing very vigorously
about it and saying `we must attack them,' basically, and praising Bush as the
man who will do it. So you have a neocon input, at least, from Norman
Podhoretz. Not all the neocons agree on this. American Jewish groups, by and
large--not all of them. There are some committees that are very much against
it. Some of them are. But in general a lot of American Jewish groups are
very hostile to Iran and very useful to this administration in that sense.
You see that impact in the Democratic politics. Hillary Clinton has said a
lot of very tough things about Iran and the bomb. They must not be allowed to
have it. Even Obama has. And you've seen a suggestion--obviously it's not a
secret that American Jewish money provides an awful lot of Democratic campaign
funds, and there's a clear connection there.
So there's a lot of pressure points outside of the White House that are
advocating action against Iran. And, again, the fact that the intelligence is
much less clear than most people know, and the fact that the consequences from
a bombing--I've had people tell me that one reason Cheney, who's, I think,
shares the view that Iran must be stopped at any cost, one reason that Cheney
is interested, I've been told, I didn't write this in the story--is that he
understands that once you start a bombing--why would Cheney support something
less than he originally wanted, which was a large-scale bombing--once you
start bombing it's very easy to escalate. The other side does something. You
do something. The attack we have planned right now, this surgical strike,
includes striking facilities, command and control facilities of the
Revolutionary Guard inside Tehran, which means you're going to have to do very
precise bombing. And I had a European official say to me, `Of course we'll
probably end up hitting a hospital or a school because bombs never go where
they're aimed.' That's one of the issues that would harden the side of the
Iranians and want them to do more.
And then the other issue is, we are going to send boys on the ground--most of
it will be done in air--we're going to send special forces, our special force
units will go in. And the other thing you have to do is, any air attack, even
if it's a limited one by the Navy fighters, the Iranians have tremendous air
defense batteries of missiles along the shore, along the Gulf, and they're dug
in, and it's not clear you can take those out by air. And so you might have
to send a Marine detachment expeditionary unit, 1,000 or so maybe, or perhaps
less. Might have to send the Marines in on the ground to blow up some of
these facilities before they can be used to bring down aircraft. And suppose
some Marines get trapped on the ground in ground combat. And suppose they get
taken hostage. What is the next step? And all of these things are driving a
lot of my friends crazy, literally, on the inside. Because, as usual, the
White House only wants to see the picture it wants to see, which is `we can go
in and do this.' And why are people talking to me? They're talking to me
because they don't want this to happen.
GROSS: If Iran does poses a threat in Iraq or poses a larger terrorist
threat, do you think there are other ways of dealing with Iraq?
Mr. HERSH: In the talks that--there have been at least three meetings
between our ambassador in Baghdad and the Iranians. There's been a series of
meetings. In all of those meetings, the Iranians say the same message, I am
told. I didn't write this. It just wasn't that relevant to the story. They
say, one. They never say to the United states, `Get your troops out.' What
they say is, `We can help you. We can help you in the south.' There's no
advantage in Iran to have the chaos they have in Iraq.
Syria is another country. Syria right now has anywhere from 1.6 to two
million refugees in its borders from Iran, and they've come across--Syria has
a population of 17 million. It's led by a
minority...(unintelligible)...country. Here they have two million Sunnis,
mostly Sunnis and some Christians living there now with no source of income,
etc., etc. I hear horrific stories about the troubles they're having just
staying alive. And it's very hard on Syria. Why wouldn't Syria want to do
what it could to join in an international peacekeeping operation with the
Iranians, with whom Syria's long-standing relationship, particularly now in
terms of antipathy toward the United States, why wouldn't they want to join in
with the other countries? Jordan right now has 800,000 refugees. There are
refugees all over. It's like another Palestinian crisis. Why wouldn't they
want an international conference to do something to put pressure on the
parties inside to resolve their crisis? This is so much more of an efficient
way to do it. We're not going to be able to do it by force.
And frankly, I'll tell you, I now believe that the 200 octane fuel that keeps
the insurgency going to a large degree is us. It's harder to make this clear
now. Two years ago, before the sectarian violence, Sunni-Shia violence was so
great, I could argue easily, the faster we get out, the more quickly the
various factions will get together. There's a lot of oil there that everybody
can share. There's tons of money there, and potentially in the underground
reservoirs. You've got, you know, billions, if not or hundreds of millions of
dollars of untapped oil. But that's not happening. Can anybody say to me
that in three months or six months or nine months or one year or two years to
three years, it's going to get better with us there?
And so what I say, I have said it, I have to maybe re-think it now as things
get so bad, but I've been saying there's basically only two options to end the
war. One, Option A: get everybody out by midnight tonight. And Option B:
get us out by midnight tomorrow. And forget about bringing any UN
peacekeepers. Anybody that comes in, whether they're Muslim or not, is going
to be an occupier. They've had it with occupiers. Let them get together and
see if in the tribal system, which still is very strong, they can work out
some agreement. If we did that, I assure you, the Iranians and the Syrians
and the Jordanians and the Kuwaitis would do all they could to try and
stabilize the situation: write off debt, lend money. Nobody needs an Iraq
GROSS: Do you have any sense of what the odds are that the Bush
administration would decide to attack Iran?
Mr. HERSH: It's very clear I don't know. The president has not signed an
execute order, which he has to do. It's much easier for him now to do this
kind of bombing because you don't have--if you're going to do limited bombing
without major Air Force participation. The Air Force is some great big
combine. They have to move pilots and the big bombers and all the equipment
to various staging bases, and it takes weeks and months, and the build-up
would be seen by all. The plan now is very quick. The Navy is right now
flying combat missions every day into Iraq. They can simply do a sharp turn
and go over Iran. Cruise missiles can be reprogrammed. They already have
been. And so it's much easier to do it, and the answer is I'd be crazy to say
I choose to write this story. I have a panoply of things that I can write
about. You know, there's so many issues now with this war. But I choose to
focus on this because I think, whatever the odds are, the consequences of an
attack on Iran are so horrific in terms of bringing us into--Brzezinski was
saying to me--Brzezinski, Carter's former national security adviser--we're
looking, if we hit Iran, we're looking at a 20-year war. The Iranians will do
something--Iran has two border countries that are pretty much, in which
America has a great deal of influence, Iraq and Afghanistan. They will do
something in both those countries. Anything they do in Afghanistan will bring
in Pakistan into it. I mean, you're looking at just a wildfire of stuff.
And if you get Hezbollah going, if you toggle Hezbollah, that, you know, that
one-time great terrorist group from "off," which it is now, to "on," you could
have some really serious stuff going on. You know, not only attacks in the
Middle East but around the world. I can't understand why a president wouldn't
do anything, including summit meetings in Tehran or some neutral ground, to
avoid this. But there's no evidence he's going to talk to those people.
GROSS: Well, Seymour Hersh, thank you so much for coming on our show. Thank
Mr. HERSH: Always fun, Terry.
GROSS: Seymour Hersh's article on Iran is in the current edition of The New
Yorker. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Bryan Fuller and Barry Sonnenfeld talk about their
careers and their new TV series, "Pushing Daisies"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
"Pushing Daises," the most positively reviewed new series of the fall TV
season, premieres tomorrow night on ABC. Our guests are Bryan Fuller, the
creator of the show, and Barry Sonnenfeld, the director of the pilot episode.
Sonnenfeld also directed the "Addams Family" and "Men in Black" films, as well
as "Get Shorty." He started his career as a cinematographer and shot several
films for the Coen brothers, including "Blood Simple" and "Miller's Crossing."
Fuller broke into TV by writing for two shows in the "Star Trek" franchise.
Then he created the cult TV series "Wonderfalls" and "Dead Like Me," and last
season wrote and produced for "Heroes."
"Pushing Daisies" revolves around a young man, Ned, who has the unusual and
unexplained gift of bringing dead people back to life with a single touch.
Here's a scene from tomorrow's pilot. Ned works with a private detective on
unsolved murders. Their current case is the murder of Ned's childhood
sweetheart, Chuck. In the funeral home, Ned awakens Chuck from the dead. But
unless he touches her again within a minute and takes her life away for good,
someone else will die.
(Soundbite of "Pushing Daisies")
Mr. LEE PACE: (As Ned) Chuck, wait!
Ms. ANNA FRIEL: (As Chuck) Who are you?
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) Do you remember a little boy who lived next door to you
when your dad died?
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) Ned? Oh my God! Hey, how are you?
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) Good. You look great. Do you know what's happening
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) I had the strangest dream. I was being strangled to
death with a plastic sack.
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) You were strangled to death with a plastic sack. That's
probably an odd thing to hear, but I wasn't quite sure how to sugarcoat it.
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) Oh. Oh.
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) You only have a minute--less.
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) What can I do in less than a minute?
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) You could tell me who killed you so, you know, justice
can be served.
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) Well, that's really sweet, but I don't know who killed
me. I went to go get ice and I dropped my rumkin ice maker and as I was
thinking, `That was dumb'...
Mr. JIM DALE: As she was thinking that was dumb, Chuck was strangled to
death with a plastic sack.
(Soundbite of crash)
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) And then you touched my cheek.
(Soundbite of knocking)
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) Just a second!
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) Is my time up?
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) I'm sorry.
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) Well, thanks for calling me Chuck. Do you know, no
one's called me Chuck since--since you.
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) I used to, when I lived next door to you. I had a cru--I
was in--you were my first kiss.
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) Yeah? You were my first kiss, too. Do you want to be
my last kiss? First and last? Or is that weird?
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) That's not weird. It's magical.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Our TV critic and occasional guest host David Bianculli spoke with
Barry Sonnenfeld and Bryan Fuller. He asked Fuller to describe the premise of
Mr. BRYAN FULLER: The story is about a young man named Ned, who is a pie
maker. And he discovers, as a child, that he has a gift that he can touch
dead things and bring them back to life. But this gift has a caveat or two,
and those caveats are: If he touches the dead ones, they come back to life;
if he touches them again, they go back to being dead, and dead again forever,
never to be revived. And the third caveat is, if he lets a dead person live
for longer than a minute then someone else has to die. And he decides in our
pilot that his childhood sweetheart, when she dies, she deserves to be brought
back for good and makes the decision to let somebody die to get his lost love
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
Now, every time I describe this to people, after telling them that I think
it's my favorite new show of the fall, they look at me like I'm slightly
deranged. But once you get past that initial description, can you talk about
why it is that you're able to hit grace notes that make this more intelligent
and witty and less just sci-fi strange than it sounds?
Mr. FULLER: I think it just goes to the characters and the character
relationships. So we're all wanting to be in relationships, and we all want
someone to love in our lives. And all those relationships are going to come
with complications. And if the basic complication is that you can't touch
each other, then it forces you get to know somebody and be intimate in a way
where you don't have the hurdle of physicality to get over because it's never
BIANCULLI: Part of what's so charming about the pilot is the visual look,
which, Barry, you bring to it as the director, or are greatly involved in
bringing it as the director. How do you collaborate together and with the
costume designer and with the lighting designer and with the actors, even, to
make sure that everybody's on a uniform tone for something that's kind of like
Mr. BARRY SONNENFELD: Well, for me, and this is Barry talking, for me, the
definition of a director is a sort of the tone police. And a director has to
decide what the tone of a show is going to be and then make sure everything is
consistent to that tone, whether it be the lighting, the camera angles, the
nature of the way actors talk, the pace in which they talk, the way the camera
covers the way those people talk, the costumes they wear. And, again, A,
based on Bryan's script, the tone, to me, was quite obvious. Although I will
say that the tone is a very narrow bridge to walk on in this show, that it
could have gotten too joke-y or too sad or too silly. So Bryan's script sort
of defined the tone. It was my job, with Bryan, to maintain that tone in
everything from visual effects to camera angles, to lighting. But that's
the--to me, that's the job of the director.
BIANCULLI: And why the focus on so many stage actors? This is by no means a
complaint, but you have Kristen Chenoweth, Swoozie Kurtz, Ellen Greene, some
really remarkable talent there in supporting roles.
Mr. FULLER: It really wasn't any sort of intentional agenda to get a lot of
stage actors. I think it was, the training of stage performers is more
conducive to the tone of the show. And I used to work on "Star Trek" for many
years, and we often found that since "Star Trek" was a heightened reality that
we would cast a lot of stage actors because they found a way to make that
heightened reality emotionally real. And so with Kristen and Swoozie and
Ellen and Anna and Lee, who all have a lot of stage training, they made the
heightened reality real.
BIANCULLI: Barry, let me ask you a question about the Coen brothers. You
started as a cinematographer on "Blood Simple" and "Raising Arizona,"
"Miller's Crossing," which is one of my absolute favorites. And I'm
wondering, did you develop and absorb their style or did they develop and
Mr. SONNENFELD: You know, Joel and Ethan Coen and I worked on our first
three movies together. In fact, the first time I had ever been on a movie set
in my life or the Coen brothers in their lives, was the first day on the set
shooting "Blood Simple." None of us worked our way up, we just sort of got
lucky and raised some money and made the movie. And I had done a lot of still
photography work before that and loved the wide angle lens. I thought it had
a real energy to it. And so we developed a look together and, you know, I
learned a lot from them and they learned a lot from me. But it was really
incredibly collaborative, very much the way it is now with Bryan and myself on
BIANCULLI: One thing that you do in your films as director that seems to
carry on to the television program is to trust your actors a great deal, to
have some scenes go in wide frame where we get to see what two or three of
them are doing at a time, and to trust them to act. Is that an accurate
assessment, and is that something that you're doing intentionally?
Mr. SONNENFELD: That's an incredibly astute question, and I'm going to take
a minute to answer that. First of all, I think great comedy plays in two
shots because you have action and reaction in the same shot. If you look at
all the screwball comedies by Preston Sturgess or Howard Hawkes, you've got
Cary Grant in a bathrobe and you've got Katharine Hepburn calling him Mr.
Bones, which isn't his name...
Mr. SONNENFELD: ...in "Bringing Up Baby." And the only reason--or part of
the reason that works is because it plays out in a two shot. You have Cary
Grant reacting while Katharine Hepburn is being hysterical in the same shot.
It requires really good writing, first of all, so that you don't need to cover
the scene in order to edit out the bad words or the stuff that you cringe when
you read it going to work that morning. And then, in addition, the director
has to pace the actors to give you the comic pacing in that shot so you don't
have to try to pace up the scene later by covering the close-ups. But I find
a lot of comedies are shot in a really lazy style, with a lot of close-ups.
And I never want to cut to the punchline of a joke. I want the audience to
think they're smarter than me.
Mr. SONNENFELD: So that they see where the joke is, and it's as if they
don't even know that I knew where the joke was. I like them to discover where
the joke is.
BIANCULLI: My guests are Bryan Fuller, the creator of "Pushing Daisies," and
Barry Sonnenfeld, the director. They're both executive producers.
What were the first movies or TV shows you saw that really sparked your
Mr. FULLER: I would say one of the biggest influences on my writing and
imagination was "The Twilight Zone." It's, you know, very often they were one
act plays that had characters that were reacting very realistically to
incredibly absurd situations. And they always kind of had an emotional
realism to them. But we were allowed to see this fantastic world that wasn't
contained within the parameters of reality.
BIANCULLI: Well, Barry, same question to you.
Mr. SONNENFELD: I came very late to movies because I had this painfully shy
childhood. I wasn't a moviegoer. You know, A, I was profoundly thin,
couldn't get a date and didn't want to go to movies by myself. And B, the
only thing you would see at movies was people falling in love and having dates
and getting married. And I knew that wasn't going to happen to me, either.
So I came very, very late to movies and my--the movie that to this day is my
favorite movie that was one of the first movies I saw was "Dr. Strangelove."
BIANCULLI: Oh, wow.
Mr. SONNENFELD: Which, you know, as black a comedy--you don't want, you
never want to tell anyone you're making a black comedy because the studios
never want to make black comedies. I remember trying to get a movie made at
Paramount after "Addams Family" did over $100 million, and the head of the
studio saying, `Well, you know, we don't make black comedies here.' And I
said, `Well, kind of. "Addams Family?"' But I'm a big black comedy fan, and
"Strangelove" is my favorite movie.
BIANCULLI: Well, that's really interesting because Kubrick films most of the
scenes in "Strangelove" in exactly the way that you've described as you
preferring to set up your comedy scenes.
Mr. SONNENFELD: Well, you know, you're absolutely right. One of the things
that makes "Strangelove" so great is to see Sterling Hayden and Peter Sellers
in the same frame, looking in the same direction, with Jack D. Ripper
explaining why, you know, you can't drink water and milk and, you know, the
whole purity of essence thing.
Mr. SONNENFELD: So, you know, that movie is often played in the comedy two
shot. And what makes it hysterical is seeing action and reaction in that same
shot. So when I mentioned Howard Hawkes and Preston Sturgess, I should have
also mentioned Kubrick as he directed "Strangelove."
GROSS: We're listening to our TV critic David Bianculli interviewing the
creator of the new TV series "Pushing Daisies," Bryan Fuller, and the director
of the show's pilot, Barry Sonnenfeld. We're after a break. This is FRESH
GROSS: Let's get back to our TV critic David Bianculli interviewing Bryan
Fuller, the creator of the new TV series "Pushing Daisies," and film director
Barry Sonnenfeld, who also directed the pilot of "Pushing Daisies."
BIANCULLI: Your first jobs in what we could call show business...
Mr. SONNENFELD: I know where this is going, Dave.
BIANCULLI: You don't even know...
Mr. SONNENFELD: That's so cheap. That's so cheap.
BIANCULLI: Listen, you don't even know to whom this question is directed yet,
because both of you guys broke in, if my information is correct, in fairly
unorthodox and very different fashions. And I was just going to ask who wants
to go first?
Mr. SONNENFELD: I want Bryan to go first.
Mr. FULLER: I started in porn, and that's actually a segue into Barry's
story. So I'll let him go. That was very passive-aggressive of me.
Mr. SONNENFELD: And I wasn't going to mention it. When I got out of film
school I had--I thought I had some talent as a cinematographer. So I thought
if I owned a camera, I could call myself a cameraman without being sort of
effete about it. So I bought a used 16 millimeter camera, and the first job I
got was shooting nine feature length pornos in nine days. The nine days were
so sexually disgusting, perverse and--you know, my theory is if porns included
the sense and smell, no one would ever go see a porn again.
BIANCULLI: Well, thank you for sharing that. So "Blood Simple" would be the
first thing on your resume?
Mr. SONNENFELD: Actually, "Blood Simple" would be the second thing. I shot
a documentary called "In Our Water" that was nominated for an Academy Award.
BIANCULLI: Oh, that's right. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
Mr. SONNENFELD: No, no, no. I love documentaries. And, in fact, it helped
me create--it helped me discover, I didn't create it. It helped me discover a
certain style of shooting involving sort of wide angle lenses. And it's a
different way of shooting documentaries. But "Blood Simple" was the first
time I was a cinematographer on a feature film for the Coen brothers, shot in
BIANCULLI: Didn't you get "Blood Simple" because of your work on the
Mr. SONNENFELD: Oh, no. I got the job on "Blood Simple" because Joel Coen
and myself were the only two Jews at a party filled with WASPs on the upper
East Side one night. And we sort of smelled each other from across the room
and came together, and we discovered that we had both gone to NYU film school,
although we didn't know each other then. And he was telling me that he'd just
written the script for "Blood Simple" and he was going to shoot a trailer as
if it was a finished film and use that as a technique to raise money. And I
said, `Hey, I own a camera.' And he hired me that night, and we went off and
shot the trailer that would have become the trailer for "Blood Simple." And a
year later we were on a movie set. But, no, it's merely because I owned a
camera that Joel Coen found me that night and hired me.
BIANCULLI: Wow. Which scenes were used in the trailer?
Mr. SONNENFELD: Well, because we didn't have any actors yet, you know,
because we hadn't raised the money, it was shot in a very sort of stylized
way. So we shot the yellow lines of a road. And you know the scene near the
end of "Blood Simple" where Emmet Walsh shots holes through the bathroom...
BIANCULLI: Oh, yes, sure.
Mr. SONNENFELD: ...wall and then you see those beams of light. So we
re-created that, but we didn't have what are called squibs or any explosives,
so we cut big round holes in a wall and then patched them up again. And while
I dollied in on the wall, a guy in the back, Don Wiegmann, behind the wall,
was hitting the holes with a hammer. And that's how we created--but, you
know, the plugs went out so fast you didn't see them in the darkness.
So, you know, the funny thing is, we then shot "Blood Simple" and had a real
professional guy with squibs and explosives, and we set the holes according to
a specific pattern, and it didn't look nearly as good as it did with--as
compared to Don Wiegmann with a hammer in the back of the wall.
BIANCULLI: And, Bryan, if you still remember the question.
Mr. FULLER: You asked, Dave.
BIANCULLI: Yes, I'd like you to answer it in terms of--no, no, no. I'm just
saying the way that you broke into the business was very unusual. It may have
smelled better, but...
Mr. FULLER: It was much more olfactory-friendly. I started--I submitted a
spec script to "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and got invited in to pitch. So
there was a time when "Star Trek" had an open script submission policy at
which they--which went away shortly afterwards because of the lawsuits. But I
managed to get in under the gun with folks like Ronald Moore, who, you know,
re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica," the Sci-Fi Channel.
Mr. FULLER: And it was a great way to get into writing, and it just--I saw
the show. I liked the show a lot and I decided to write a spec script. And I
did and it got me in the door, and I sold a couple of stories. And they gave
me a script, and I was on staff for four years.
BIANCULLI: Can you define what a spec script is?
Mr. FULLER: Oh, a spec script is something that you write that you're not
getting paid for. And oftentimes writers will use them as a resume. It's a
sample of your work that shows that you can actually write a script. And
there's two ways to do it. You can either write an original spec script,
which is basically a pilot that hasn't been ordered, but a pilot that you
would like to see and like to write. And the other one is to look at a show,
an existing show like "Desperate Housewives" or "Ugly Betty" and write an
episode that you come up with and give it to people. So it's a writing
BIANCULLI: And what did you learn most in terms of doing television, and
specifically fanciful television?
Mr. FULLER: I got into writing to become a "Star Trek" writer. I was a
rabid fan. I had shelves and shelves and shelves of action figures in my
bedroom that scared away more dates than I care to admit to. And so it was
really--if back then you told me, `You're going to write for "Star Trek" for
20 years,' I couldn't have imagined a happier career.
But after writing for "Star Trek" for four years and bumping up against the
parameters of the storytelling, which sometimes were very restrictive because
there was always that magical reset button and you could never carry story
arcs over the episodes. Because they were so heavily syndicated that it just
simply wasn't allowed. I began to get itchy and wanting to tell stories with
a little more emotional depth. Because one of the things about the "Star
Trek" universe, especially "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine" and
"Voyager," were that the characters were so much more evolved than we were
that they wouldn't be terrified when they're looking at a giant Borg cube
about to assimilate them. They would handle their jobs and they would behave
responsibly and calmly, and I just had a hard time relating to that after a
certain point. And then my last year on "Voyager" I wrote "Dead Like Me" on
BIANCULLI: Bryan Fuller, Barry Sonnenfeld, thank you very much for being on
Mr. SONNENFELD: Thank you, Dave.
Mr. FULLER: Thank you!
GROSS: Bryan Fuller created the new TV series "Pushing Daisies," which
premieres tomorrow night on ABC. Barry Sonnenfeld directed the pilot. They
spoke with our TV critic David Bianculli.
Coming up, a review of Ann Patchett's new novel. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Maureen Corrigan reviews Ann Patchett's new novel, "Run"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Ann Patchett's best-selling novel "Bel Canto" improbably blended the worlds of
guerilla warfare and opera in a romantic narrative that compelled critics and
readers alike to give her a standing ovation. Patchett's new novel is called
"Run," and book critic Maureen Corrigan is leaping to her feet once more.
MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:
It's been a long time since I've teared up at the end of a novel. I think I'd
have to go back to my first ever reading of "Stuart Little" about seven years
ago to find the last trace of tears before this week when I finished Ann
Patchett's new novel, "Run." "Run" touched me deeply. And in this po-mo age,
where irony is still equated with intelligence in writing and criticism, it's
no small thing to come upon a work of serious literary fiction that's
earnestly and daringly poignant.
But I was also moved to tears for another reason. It's the easy virtuosity of
Patchett's technique that's also affecting. She's just so good at everything
here: the subtlety of the characters, the atmosphere of a fully realized
world, the overall intricate plot design that gives a reader reassurance that
an all-powerful author God is sitting comfortably in the pilot seat.
Like her previous wonder of a novel, "Bel Canto," "Run" limits itself to a
contained setting and a tight little group of characters. In "Bel Canto" her
characters were hostages to a rebel band of guerillas. In "Run," they're
hostages to the weather. When "Run" opens, a nighttime snowstorm is falling
over Boston. One of those snows that blankets and silences a city. Bernard
Doyle, a former mayor of Boston, is leaving a Jesse Jackson lecture with two
of his college-age sons, Tip and Teddy. It's necessary to note--because the
plot turns on this fact--that, despite their Boston Irish monikers and their
Celtic custom of calling their father "da," Tip and Teddy are
African-American. They're adopted as babies by the pale-faced Doyle and his
late wife, who died many years ago of cancer.
After the lecture, Tip stubbornly announces he's returning to his lab in the
basement of the Natural History Museum at Harvard where he studies his great
passion, fish. Doyle tries to stop him and, in the middle of the blinding
blizzard, as father and son are arguing, an SUV comes out of nowhere. It
probably would have hit and killed Tip, but a woman, a black woman named
Tennessee, spots the SUV bearing down and leaves her 11-year-old daughter on
the snowy pavement and runs to push Tip to safety, in the process getting hit
herself. So ends just the first chapter of this novel that will track the
Doyles and their savior through this surreal night and the day that follows,
when snow is general over Boston.
That allusion to Joyce's masterpiece "The Dead" is deliberate, because
Patchett plays with the eeriness of a nighttime snowstorm. She dramatizes the
same sense that Joyce had that the boundary between past and present, the
living and the dead, is more permeable as snow falls out of a dark sky and
shrouds everything below. Tennessee is brought to the hospital and hovers
there in a limbo state. Ghosts walk, long-buried memories and emotional bonds
and secrets of identity emerge all throughout these strained hours.
Patchett makes coincidences that might seem too far out even for Dickens seem
plausible through the glowing vitality of her language. Here, for instance,
is a passage given to us by an omniscient narrator where Tip and Teddy's
uncle, a dying priest named Father Sullivan, ruminates on the likelihood of an
afterlife, which he's started to doubt.
"Look at all these true believers who wanted only to live. Look at himself,
clinging on to this life like a squirrel scrambling up the icy pitch of a
roof. How wrongheaded it seemed now to think that the thrill of heartbeat and
breath were just a stepping stone to something greater. What could be greater
than the armchair, the window, the snow? Why wouldn't it stand to reason that
this had been the whole of existence? And now he would retreat back to the
nothingness he had come from in order to let someone else have their turn at
We readers are assured that Father Sullivan's eleventh-hour doubts are not the
workings of disbelief, but rather a joyful realization of all he had been
given. And, indeed, that's the miracle that's worked throughout this novel.
"Run" takes devastating moments of loss and regret and scatters them into a
sweeping Milky Way arc of dazzling affirmation without itself somehow becoming
cosmically cheap and sentimental as a work of fiction. Maybe you won't
actually tear up as I did if you read "Run," but I guarantee that even the
most cynical of readers won't roll their eyes, either.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed Ann Patchett's new novel "Run."
You can download podcasts of our show by going to our Web site,
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.