Fans: Bid Farewell to Fringe

02/22/2011 at 1:58 pm | Posted in, Net/Spec | 3 Comments
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Similar to the annual ChuckWatch, fans of Fringe have been pulling out their hair every spring for the past two years – and this year is no different.  If anything, fans have been really scared ever since FOX moved the show to Fridays a little over a month ago.  How did a show that started strong almost three years ago end up on the night where most shows go to die?

Fringe started the fall of 2008 with much hype and fanfare.  It’s from the team of JJ Abrams!  It has cryptic images that have a secret message when combined!  It’s like a twist on X-Files!  OMG – it’s Joshua Jackson!!  By the time it premiered, its initial ratings were incredible.  As the year went on – as most freshman shows do (like this season’s No Ordinary Family) – its ratings waned to acceptable-but-not-super levels.

For its second season, FOX announced in its May upfronts that Fringe was going to be moved to the daunting Thursday 9pm time period.  Fans were a bit scared.  And why wouldn’t they be?  With CSI on CBS, The Office on NBC, and Grey’s Anatomy on ABC generating massive ratings – was there room for FringeFOX’s game plan actually made sense.  Just like when starting a pizza business in an established market, placing a new (to the time slot) show in a time period so jam-packed is more about skimming viewers (or customers, for pizza companies) than it is winning.  In other words, FOX’s goal was to not win the 9p hour, but to increase their year-to-date viewership numbers.  Sure enough – even though Fringe’s ratings dropped dramatically from their season one average – the Bones/Fringe line-up increased the YTD numbers for their Thursday night.  So overall it was a successful year.  FOX announces it will pick Fringe up for a full third season.

This year (which is Fringe’s third season) wasn’t the same story.  Despite Bones being a solid lead-in, viewership kept dropping for the sci-fi show.  On the flip side, FOX had Glee bringing in amazing ratings on Tuesdays.  Also, American Idol (the highest rated show for the 18-49 demo) was coming back in January.  Normally, FOX would air American Idol on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; but with Glee giving FOX the strong Tuesday – combined with Thursday’s overall numbers decreasing – moving American Idol to Wednesdays and Thursday proved to be the best thing for the network.

FOX announced they were moving Fringe to Fridays at 9p.  As I stated earlier, Friday is usually the scripted graveyard.  However, in Fringe’s case, realistic (and optimistic) expectations were put into place by FOX’s president.  Depending on when you heard Kevin Reilly (FOX’s president) talk about their expectations, the show needed to keep 100% of its Thursday number (around a 1.9 in A18-49), or 90%, or 80%.

Fringe’s ratings have been both good and bad since settling into Fridays.  The first few weeks landed at the 1.9 rating, but the following weeks started a downward trend – dropping to a 1.4 on February 11th.  Remember the instance when Reilly said if the show kept at 80% it would be renewed?  1.5 is 80%.  Needless to say, this trend hasn’t been overlooked.  Last week, Joshua Jackson publically reminded fans that if they want the show to continue, the fans MUST watch live (meaning: not DVR).  While he may or may not have had anything to do with it, the February 18th number bounced back up to 1.6.

Advocates for Fringe will argue that their show will be safe.  They will point to the lowest number Reilly quoted, saying that so far Fringe’s average is in the “safe zone”.  They will bring up an interview with producers saying they were told a 1.2 would bring the show back for a fourth season.  A case would be made that (at least on Feb. 18th) FOX was tied for 1st place in the 18-49 demo with CBS (although Fringe was 3rd in its time period); not to mention being the #1 show in its TP for 18-34 demo – its number 20% higher than its closest competition!  Also, their DVR numbers prove that a lot of people watch it a few days after the initial airing.  How could FOX not want to keep the show for another year?!

Look, don’t get me wrong – I would be thrilled if Fringe was renewed for another season.  I absolutely think there should be room on the network schedule for a niche show like this.  However, I just don’t see it happening.  DVR numbers mean nothing to networks because DVR numbers mean NOTHING to advertisers.  So let’s put THAT argument to bed. 

Also, you have to understand that networks put scripted shows on Fridays to retain advertiser dollars – as advertisers pay more for scripted programming than unscripted ones (unless they are time-tested monsters like American Idol or Survivor).  But even with that, there’s no way that the ad dollars for a scripted program with a 1.5 rating would be more profitable for FOX than cheaper unscripted programming that would cost FOX a lot less to produce – especially for an older show that costs FOX more in licensing fees.

So while the show may average at that 80% number, I just don’t see FOX renewing the show due to such a high cost for a low rating.  However, I will be the first one to offer high-fives to those around me if FOX surprises me and renews the fanboy favorite.  I hope they renew Fringe, but the ratings are suggesting it won’t return this fall.



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  1. This is one show I never got into. Maybe it’s “Pacey” from Dawson’s Creek, but whatever the case may be, it never captured my interest. I know a lot of people that love it. Thankfully, there is such a thing as the DVR, which I believe these days greatly impacts the “prime time” ratings for TV shows.

    • DVR DOES greatly impact ratings – but in a bad way. Advertisers pay for the live viewing, not DVR playback (since they believe that their commercials are being skipped over when watched on DVR). Shows brag about the increase they see in the final +3 DVR numbers, but they absolutely have no effect in getting a show renewed.

  2. […] got renewed for a full 22-season order.  Despite my belief that it looked likely for cancelation, I image WB came in and practically gave away the show to […]

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