His team was up, and Fuller was caught between first and second base, with no hope of being anything but an easy out for a cocky second baseman. So young Bryan pulled a Kobayashi Maru, long before he knew there was a name for such a maneuver (for the uninitiated, see "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."). He ran into the outfield. And when the umpire hollered "out," Fuller was incensed.
"I figured if the person who has the ball has to tag you, they should have to chase your ass wherever you go," Fuller recalls, shaking his head. "Why do you have to be locked down to just one way?"
From that long-ago injustice came a good deal of his motivation to build a career on coloring outside the lines, bending the rules of space and time to his own delight as a storyteller. In just a few years Fuller has developed a loyal following among a certain breed of TV junkies and a growing reputation in the biz as the writer-producer behind such stylish drama series as Showtime's "Dead Like Me" and Fox's "Wonderfalls." Fuller spent most of the past season as a staff scribe on NBC's "Heroes," except for when he was off developing his latest creation, "Pushing Daisies," for Warner Bros. Television, which landed the Wednesday 8 p.m. berth on ABC's fall sked.
"Pushing Daisies" is a darkly comic drama leavened with a sweet romantic relationship at its core. In other words, it's perfectly in the Fuller milieu, especially as it defies pithy logline description.
In a nutshell, Ned is a nice kid who realizes one day that he has a very strange gift. He can bring dead things back to life just by touching them, as he learns when his dog has an unfortunate encounter with a semi-trailer one afternoon. But just as he's getting into the fun of his newfound talent, he learns that it comes with a big caveat: If he touches the once-dead thing again, they go right back to being dead.
Unfortunately for Ned, he doesn't sort all of this out until he's killed his own mother, and the father of the girl next door, Chuck, who he's fallen for in the way that only preteen boys can fall for their first crushes. After all of this set up in the first act, the show really begins years later when Ned is a pie shop owner by day who moonlights as a solver of murder mysteries (for the sake of justice and reward money), using his power to bring victims back just long enough for them to tell him who committed the dastardly deed.
One day while watching the news, Ned sees that his long-lost old flame Chuck has died mysteriously on a cruise ship. To fast-forward, he puts the magic touch on her but can't bear to do it again. And so begins the ultimate arm's-length romantic relationship.
Based on the pilot, "Daisies" should be just like a big bowl of rainbow sherbet: tasty, light, sweet and a satisfying escape from the stresses of every day life. With all due respect to its creator, a good 50% of the reason it works so well is its fine cast, including Lee Pace as Ned (Fuller fans will remember Pace, pictured above, from "Wonderfalls"); Anna Friel as Chuck (pictured above); Kristin Chenoweth as the pie-shop waitress (pictured below with dog) who pines for Ned without knowing what he's really all about; Chi McBride (pictured below with Pace) as Ned's partner and the one person who does know his secret; and Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene (pictured below) as the weird aunts who raised Chuck.
As "Daisies" and "Dead Like Me" indicate, Fuller has had a lifelong fascination with mortality. Fuller points to his childhood for part of the explanation, though he stresses that his upbringing as the youngest of five children was loving and happily functional on nearly every level. But....
"I went to a lot of funerals as a kid, and they were always really fun occasions," Fuller says. "I got the chance to see cousins and relatives who were always more interesting than my immediate family, and they were always more interested in me. I guess I started to associate funerals and wakes with good times being had."
Another part of that explanation may be that he grew up in a small town about two hours outside of Spokane with very little in the way of entertainment other than a bowling alley and fast-food joints -- not even a movie theater. His family's TV diet was mostly confined to G-rated fare a la "The Waltons," "The Lawrence Welk Show" and "Little House on the Prairie." But once he was able to get some quality time by himself with the tube, he discovered a portal to a new dimension of storytelling called "The Twilight Zone."
Once submitted, it met with his approval -- big time. "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" were big influences too, but Fuller worships at the temple of Rod Serling.
"'The Twilight Zone' taught me so much as a storytelling. It showed that you could tell stories that were grounded in a reality that we could all identify with, but the parameters could be much looser," Fuller says.
Fuller was pointed in the direction of film school by junior college professor after he turned in a project for his psychology class examining the subtext of "Alien." By the early 1990s, he'd made his way to USC, and was juggling four jobs to pay for it all -- including a stint as a sales clerk in the men's department at Robinsons-May. Fuller eventually had to drop out of USC, after which he dropped in to the Groundlings, where the improv training gave him an education in writing and character development.
Fuller wound up selling stories and spec scripts to "Star Trek: Deep Space 9" at a time when the "Star Trek" shows had an open-submission policy. He served four seasons as a staff writer "Star Trek: Voyager," and right as that show wrapped in 2001 he sold the spec for "Dead Like Me" to MGM and Showtime.
The concept for "Daisies" began in Fuller's brain as a spinoff of "Dead Like Me," which revolved around a young woman who becomes a grim reaper. But Fuller parted ways with "Dead" before he could seed the storyline for "Daisies." He pitched the idea as a series on and off for a few years, with little interest. He pitched the idea to his producer friends Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen as a feature while he was working with the "American Beauty" duo on another feature project.
To Fuller's surprise, execs at Warner Bros. Television responded enthusiastically to his "Daisies" idea, and suggested that he might want to partner with producers like...Jinks and Cohen, who also have a TV deal with the studio. When Jinks and Cohen suggested to Fuller that Barry Sonnenfeld might be good to direct the pilot, he swooned and told them he "couldn't think of anyone better to handle the material." Writer and director have gotten on famously, and Sonnenfeld is sticking around to direct several of the show's first few episodes.
Thanks to Pace's charm as the lead character, "Daisies" has a fun "Arsenic and Old Lace" touch to it. Much of the series' fate will depend on how smartly ABC is able to sell the show. Fuller is the first to admit it's a challenging task for a marketer. And for its writers too, himself included.
Fuller says he's taking his cue from Tim Kring, the creator-exec producer of "Heroes," by having his staff of 10 scribes write the first dozen episodes largely as a unit, so that they can figure out the show's nuances, rhythms and quirks together. Most important in Fuller's view is that each episode advance the relationship between Ned and Chuck, as much as it deals with that week's case. (And if they make it to a back-nine, Fuller is promising a musical episode, given the breadth of Broadway experience among his cast.)
"I don't fully understand the show myself yet," Fuller says. "Initially, we're all jumping in on every episode, so that nobody's thrown into the water without water-wings."