BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — After creating, writing and producing a TV series about dead people, it shouldn't come as any great surprise that Bryan Fuller might come up with something like "Pushing Daisies."
"The story actually started out as a spinoff of 'Dead Like Me,' and I put it in my back pocket," he said. Later, he pulled it out and pitched Warner Bros.: "The idea of a guy who can touch dead people once and bring them back to life. And if he touches them again, they go back to being dead.
"Problem is he touches a dead girl, falls in love with her and can never touch her again. ... It was built around this impossible romance, which kind of infects all of the stories around it, so everything has a little bit of sweetness to it."
That's "Pushing Daisies" (7 p.m., Ch. 4) in a nutshell. And the premiere is nothing short of magical — like something right out of a storybook, complete with narration and bright, primary colors.
It's a "forensic fairy tale" about Ned, who discovers as a boy his touch can bring people back from the dead. If he touches the person again, that person is permanently dead. But if he doesn't touch them again in a minute or less, someone else will die.
Grown-up Ned (Lee Pace) makes the world's greatest pies by touching dead fruit and giving it everlasting flavor. He's understandably shy about relationships and misses the fact that the waitress at his pie shop, Olive Snook (Kristin Chenowith), has a thing for him. And when private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) accidentally learns of Ned's talent, they partner as murder investigators — Ned touches the victim and asks who killed him/her.
But then Ned revives Charlotte "Chuck" Charles (Anna Friel), the girl he loved as a child, and can't bring himself to unrevive her. But he can never again touch the woman he loves.
The cast also includes Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene as Chuck's dotty aunts — a former synchronized swimming team who have become recluses.
Tonight's premiere is a sheer delight — sort of a brighter, happier "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events." Barry Sonnenfeld ("Men In Black"), who produced "Lemony," directed the pilot of "Daisies."
"I just love how many of you have written that this show looks very (Tim) Burtonesque, which makes me really thrilled since my name is Sonnenfeld," he joked to TV critics.
It's thoroughly charming — a show that can take subject of death and treat it, not irreverently, but sort of humorously and sweetly.
"The tone of the show is that tricky balance between the sweetness and a little bit of darkness," Fuller said, "but darkness not in any way that is too morbid or depressing. The show is a fun show. I think we all set out to try to do a show that was fun."
And the murders-of-the-week will "have fun infused with them."
"There's always going to be, like, a magical quality to the case that gives it some levity," Fuller said, "so when we do have murders, they skew a little bit more 'Beetlejuice' than 'CSI."'
As good as the first hour of "Pushing Daisies" is — and it is great — that doesn't mean it's going to be a great series. Critics have only seen one episode, and you've got to wonder if the idea will hold up past that first hour.
Whether it does or not, the premiere is great.