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'Daisies': Light touch for the dead

July 27, 2007

ABC's "Pushing Daisies" is the story of a young man blessed/cursed with the gift of bringing people back from the dead with a mere touch (but only if he never touches them again). Told in high fairy-tale style, down to its narration by "Harry Potter" audio god, Jim Dale, with a candy-store color scheme and high-def characters (Swoosie Kurtz plays one-half of a former synchronized swim team and wears an eye patch), it's poised to be the critic's darling come fall.

And everyone, including the cast and creators, knows exactly what a kiss of death that can be.

"I knew I was going to get that question," said costar Chi McBride when a reporter pointed out that he was in the cast of the previous, and short-lived, critic's pick "The Nine." In his answer he quoted, and did a passable impersonation of, executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld.

"Some people see the glass half empty, some people see it half full. I see a half a glass of poison," said McBride-as-Sonnenfeld.

"Chi," said Sonnenfeld himself, with a small grim laugh, "I've told you over and over, live in fear."

Known much more as a film director, Sonnenfeld has ventured into television before, as executive producer of the failed series "Karen Sisco" and the cult favorite "The Tick," and directing episodes of "Notes From the Underbelly." This time around, he says, he plans to stick with the show more than he has in the past.

"I didn't stick around on the other shows," he said. "And I decided when I got back into television, I would stay around, be involved in continuing the show. Love television."

The early raves, he said, don't worry him. "I'm a big believer in flying under the radar. Not doing that with this show. It's a great show and going to do well. Not worried about the buzz."

Well, not all of it.

"So many of you have written that the show looks [Tim] Burton-esque, which is such a thrill for me," he said, deadpan, "since my name is Sonnenfeld."

Creator Bryan Fuller says the series has been in his back pocket as a possible spinoff from his other critical darling, Showtime's "Dead Like Me." Still, he gamely denied being a morbid person, all appearances to the contrary.

"I don't think death is morbid," he said, "except I guess it sort of is by definition. I just think it's fascinating. I don't think you can look at death without thinking about life. I'm more of a magical, mystical person.

"Our show is a fun show. We set out to have fun. I can't watch shows like '24.' Too depressing. I don't want to watch things about terrorism."

But, Fuller said, " 'Pushing Daisies' will deal with real issues, but it will skew a little more 'Beetlejuice' than 'CSI.' "

This despite the fact that ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson had referred to the show in his morning session as a procedural. (Which is a bit like categorizing "Harry Potter" as a coming-of age-tale -- technically true but missing a lot of the point.)

The creators vow that subsequent episodes of "Pushing Daisies" will maintain the vivid palette and its high-whimsy-meets-noir sensibility throughout.

"There's a dial that usually stops at 10," Sonnenfeld said. "I just turn it to 11." And he's not worried about the audience at all. This half glass of poison will appeal to the gamut. "I see it as having a 'Men in Black' audience, that wide," he said.

And hey, the critics liked "Men in Black" too.

-- Mary McNamara

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