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In Search Of… the real Reiden Lake?

Second only to Walter’s lab at Harvard… Reiden Lake is the most important location to the mythology of Fringe. It’s the Ground Zero of all Fringe events – the scene of many dramatic incidents in the Fringe universe: the death of David Robert Jones, the confrontation between Peter and Walternate, and of course, the defining event of the series… Walter’s breakthrough into the alternate universe in 1985 and his return trip with young Peter across the ice.

But is Reiden Lake an actual place?

The showrunners and writers have never commented on whether or not Reiden Lake is based on a real location. (Of course, the “real” Reiden Lake is not in New York at all, but in the Vancouver area where Fringe is filmed. A snowy parking lot, a swimming pool (for underwater scenes), and Rice Lake have all been used to depict it on screen.) But its depiction in various episodes of Fringe from Season 1 through 4 can give us some clues as to where the real-life twin of Reiden Lake might be found.

First of all, the general location of Reiden Lake is unequivocal: it’s somewhere in Upstate New York. This has been stated on numerous occasions. (As a native Upstate New Yorker, I’m both impressed, and amused at how Upstate New York is so often used by Hollywood writers as easy shorthand for “back of beyond.” However, Upstate does indeed have lots of lakes!)

That said, there is actually no known lake called Reiden in any part of the state. Fortunately, although upstate New York is vast, we can narrow down an extremely specific area where “Reiden Lake” (or its real-life counterpart, if there is one) might be, thanks to maps shown on the show:

These maps, although they conflict slightly, place Reiden Lake consistently in a small area either just north or just south of the intersection of Interstates 90 (the Thruway) and 88. This places Reiden Lake just east of the Albany area, south of Schenectady and the Mohawk Valley, in rural Schenectady County, or perhaps Schoharie County.

In order to match Reiden Lake, the real-life candidate should be located in a rural area, be not too large or too small, be surrounded by trees and modest vacation homes, and be in a locale that’s cold enough to freeze over. There are actually a few small lakes in the area that might fit the bill as candidates.

Duane Lake, which happens to be south of I-88 in the Town of Duanesburg, is the lake which most resembles the triangular shape of Reiden Lake on one of the maps depicted on the show. It’s surrounded by woodlands, but is not in itself in a deep woods area. Here’s a photo of Duane Lake. Duane Lake is not accessible to the public (it’s surrounded by private property), but you can also take a peek at a sample lakeside home for sale. (The Bishop house?)

Another likely candidate also in the area (north of I-88, however) is Featherstonhaugh Lake, which adjoins the publicly accessible lands of Featherstonhaugh State Forest. Here’s a fall picture of the lake, and an evening view. This lake is also roughly triangle-shaped, but is in a more rural wooded setting than Duane Lake.

Another possible candidate, though somewhat south of the area shown on the maps on Fringe, is Thompson’s Lake. Here’s what it looks like frozen! Thompson’s Lake has a state park and campground on one shore (with private properties on the other side), so you can take a vacation there and see for yourself.

So those are three possible candidates for the real-life location of Reiden Lake. If the show’s writers just made up a fictional lake and made up the location too, the fact that there are three lakes that strongly resemble Reiden Lake would be… well, sort of a Fringey coincidence!

A new life for Fringe

On Thursday, March 24, Fringe’s renewal for a fourth season was announced by co-showrunner Joel Wyman, ending a busy and anxious winter for many fans. Here’s the official press release from Fox, released the next day:

FOX RENEWS “FRINGE” FOR FOURTH SEASON – IN BOTH UNIVERSES

FOX has renewed critically acclaimed thrilling drama FRINGE for a fourth season, it was announced today by Kevin Reilly, President, Entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Company. “FRINGE has truly hit a creative stride and has distinguished itself as one of television’s most original programs. The series’ ingenious producers, amazingly talented cast and crew, as well as some of the most passionate and loyal fans on the planet, made this fourth-season pickup possible,” said Reilly. “When we moved the show to Fridays, we asked the fans to follow and they did. We’re thrilled to bring it back for another full season and keep it part of the FOX family.”

FRINGE co-creator and executive producer J.J. Abrams said, “We could not be happier that the fans of FRINGE (and our most excellent partners at FOX) have allowed us to continue telling stories from the fringe for another season!” “This early pickup comes at a perfect time as we start production on the Season Three finale,” added FRINGE showrunners and executive producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman. “We join the cast and crew in thanking our loyal fans and FOX for allowing us to have this much fun telling stories we love.”

The news capped a frankly terrifying week for Fringe fans who had been hearing all sorts of third-party rumors about impending cancellation (including one that insinsuated that the show’s sets were being scrapped). The renewal generated huge comment on the Internet and in the industry. Most ratings-watchers had placed it in serious danger of cancellation, especially after its heartening 1.9 ratings in the 18-49 demo, which the show posted in its first two Friday outings (Jan. 21 and 28), began to evaporate soon afterward, leading to an all-time series low of 1.3 (less than 4 million viewers) on March 18.

Without a doubt, Fringe’s renewal is the most extraordinary surprise of the spring season, made even more so by Fox’s commitment to a 22-episode full-season order. It was an outcome few people expected with any certainty, and it’s nearly impossible to tell right now what exactly was the deciding factor. Was it the demographics? Was it the DVR numbers? Was it the continued acclaim from mainstream TV critics? Was it a deal involving budget cuts and licensing fees? Was it problems with Fox’s planned new show launches for fall? Was it the white-hot passion of the show’s core fanbase? Speculation continues to abound at TV By the Numbers (which had analyzed Fox’s summer repeat schedule and interpreted it to mean a sure Fringe cancellation). It’s likely that all of these were contributing factors to the final choice.

The renewal also undoubtedly restores a great deal of the credibility that Fox has lost in past years with genre show fans. Whatever else Fox hopes to gain by giving Fringe another chance, this is yet another intangible benefit of their decision. When the show’s slot change to Friday was announced back in November, fans quickly realized that the move was Fringe’s only real hope for survival, and to their credit, the fan base climbed on board this train immediately. What they lacked in wide reach, fan efforts such as the Fringe Network made up for in unflagging hope and enthusiasm on a specific mission that couldn’t have been more clear: Get existing fans to watch the show live on Fridays.

This remains the core mission of any fan efforts to ensure the show’s continued survival. Although Fringe’s ratings obligingly ticked up a couple of tenths for “Bloodline” – the episode airing just after the renewal announcement – sparing Fox any immediate embarrassment about their bold decision to renew, the facts still remain that Fringe is a lightly-watched show on a graveyard night, and people generally watch less TV in the spring.

The fight for Fringe continues — and it will likely only become more challenging next season.

However, in addition to a 22-episode order for a fourth season that many people thought Fringe would never get, there have been some other hopeful developments over the winter.

  • Prior to the Friday move, Fringe’s online fans had little or no direct contact with anyone connected with the production. That changed in February when Fringe’s showrunners, Jeff Pinkner and Joel Wyman, participated in a live episode tweet-along… and decided to stick around. Wyman, in particular, has taken to Twitter and periodically pops in to stay in touch with the Twitterati, giving out just the right amount of information to keep fans intrigued and heartened about the show’s future. This appropriately casual level of contact with fans is great for everyone’s morale, and it’s better late than never.
  • After Fringe’s airing on March 18, ratings-watchers noticed that Fox’s publicity arm had begun reporting ratings using Nielsen’s new NPower ratings metric. This is a slight change to the way Nielsen counts viewers (which will take “official” effect in April). It only concerns repeat DVR viewing inside a very limited time period (same-day) after a show airs, and it doesn’t mean that time-shifted DVR viewing is going to help Fringe’s ratings very much any time soon. It’s still vitally important to watch Fringe live. But it is a minor but interesting development from the ratings world that underlines how DVR viewing is not going away, and is going to have to be acknowledged somehow by network television and its advertisers.
  • The relationship between fans and the network, approached with such understandable trepidation by both parties last fall, has reached a new level of trust. Hopefully, fans don’t need to be reminded by Fox scheduler Preston Beckman that “the ball is in their court.” In addition to tuning in live to the show whenever possible, and urging others to make Fringe Fridays a habit, Fox may be hoping that Fringe fans will contribute some energy to supporting their new fall programming, which will include science-fiction blockbuster Terra Nova and the new JJ Abrams mystery Alcatraz. Relationships require work and commitment. We hope that Fringe fans and Fox decision-makers both continue to think so in the season ahead.

To all involved in the production and distribution of Fringe: a hearty and delighted thank-you, and congratulations. To the fans, maybe Walter Bishop puts it best:

“Look at all these students. When did they become so afraid? We had the courage to think against the grain of what we were told.”

Onward to Season 4!

Freaking out over Fringe Fridays

When Fringe‘s move to Fridays was announced shortly before Thanksgiving (end of November), fans of the show went through a brief, intense period of shock. Fox’s history with moving genre shows to Fridays – and the usual sad result (see: Firefly, Dollhouse, Sarah Connor Chronicles, etc) – is well known. Although fans by and large were hoping Fox would move Fringe from its troubled and highly competitive 9 p.m. Thursday slot to a better night, Fridays are probably not what many people had in mind.

Nevertheless, after the shock wore off, fans used the momentum of some exciting episodes (“Entrada” and “Marionette”) to rally their energies toward what must be done: making Fringe a niche success on Friday nights. The Fringe Network is the most prominent and organized of the fan efforts to keep the show on the air. TV bloggers and critics such as Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker, Time’s James Poniewozik, Zap2It’s TVOvermind, Give Me My Remote’s Marisa Roffman, IGN and many other voices have also added to the chorus: Fringe is currently at its creative height, and deserves a fighting chance – on Friday or any other night.

Walter may have been able to save Peter from death, but do Fringe‘s fans and admirers have what it takes to reverse the “Friday curse”? The move to Fridays (originally set for Jan. 28 but since moved up to Jan. 21) gives concerned parties only a few weeks to mount a credible response to the challenge. Times have surely changed since the days of Bjo Trimble’s letter campaign to NBC to save Star Trek in 1969 (which got it to Fridays, but not beyond). But how fans can best use the modern resources of the Internet to send a message to network execs still isn’t clear, and will only be discovered after trial and error.

Fortunately, after the initial shock and anger of the Friday move wore off, it seems that most Fringe fans have begun to understand that Fox is not exactly the enemy here. It’s extremely difficult to trust Fox programming execs after a decade of cumulative bad decisions about good shows (like Firefly), but last week the network unleashed a truly eye-opening 60-second promo that took everyone in the industry by surprise. Whether you think it was bold, brave, gutsy, disingenuous, or just something approaching suicidal overconfidence, someone at Fox has apparently decided to make a stab at cleaning up their bad image and is trying to make viewers think differently about what has (up to now) been regarded as a universally bad omen for a show’s future.

In an article published the next day by Entertainment Weekly, Fox execs expressed their concern that fans would believe the network was giving up on the show (gee, Fox, after Firefly… ya think?) and also revealed some of their future plans for a promotional rebranding of Fringe:

The promo is the beginning of a larger effort by Fox to shore up Fringe’s existing fanbase and hopefully grow the audience by targeting teen viewers who might be at home Friday night. (The show returns on Jan. 21) Fox will continue posting “pre-caps” (as opposed to “recaps”) at Fox.com featuring cast members and producers setting up each new episode. For viewers, they’re a more entertaining and personal approach to “Previously on…” rehashes. Additionally, Norris also says future on-air promos will emphasize Fringe’s horror elements, albeit not right away, as the first episodes on the new year are relatively light on Fringe-style gore. “We are trying to rebrand Friday, and what we’re trying to do with this show specifically is make it kind of like forbidden fruit,” says Norris. “We want that teen demographic that might not be our audience right now to say, ‘That this is a show my parents might not want me to watch — but I’m going to watch it, anyway.’”

This quote from Fox has aroused both interest and controversy among fans. TV Overmind (perhaps a bit unhappy with the way that bloggers were inaccurately quoted in Fox’s promo) soon published a sharply worded response questioning Fox’s promo as possibly “rose-colored” spin. It also echoed some fans’ fear that Fox was going to “dumb down” the show or return it to “Monster of the Week” format in order to attract a younger audience.

Lost in the controversy is something highly noteworthy: an ongoing conversation between Fox and Fringe fans appears to have begun. Fox’s “Freaky Friday” promo was made partly in response to execs’ perception that fans were growing afraid of the dreaded “death slot” reputation of Friday nights. Now some fans are bouncing off Fox’s statement with the promo (and EW interview) and voicing some more fears in Fox’s direction. Although fans and network execs may never see eye to eye, this is already some grounds for hope that the “Friday death slot” self-fulfilling dynamic may be changing.

In the weeks to come, can fans avoid freaking out and yet still manage to communicate their hopes and fears about Fringe to the powers that be? Can Fox manage to accomplish what it says it wants to accomplish – to take back Friday nights as a “life slot,” a respectable place for an intriguing TV show to live?

A word to fans: “Fox” is not a monolithic entity. At any network, there are people in the organization who have passions and opinions about their programming, and about how best to proceed with a show that has had disappointing ratings but still seems to have great potential. There are also, of course, people in the organization who only care about what’s been done before and the easy route to instant ratings gratification — those people who would prefer to turn Fox into seven nights of reality television. But it would make the fight for Fringe easier if fans would concentrate their energies on identifying, reaching out to and speaking honestly to those specific people within the Fox organization who have gone to bat for the show thus far — and (if the “Death Slot” promo is any indication) are still willing to support it.

If fans, bloggers and critics can balance their quite understandable cynicism and distrust of network logic with a level-headed appreciation for what all parties are trying to accomplish with Fringe, the next few weeks and months can be a hopeful chapter for Fringe, for Fox, for Fridays, and for television in general. The fight for Fringe need not be a destructive war between two sides that mistrust, misunderstand and think the worst of each other. As some of our characters have said, “There has to be another way.”

(A related post: “Food for Thought and Marketing Shifts” over at Fringe Network.)

A war is coming

Yesterday (Friday, November 19), at the very tail end of a long press release from Fox, it was announced that effective January 28, Fringe will be moved to Fridays at 9 p.m. (In the PR business they call this a “Friday news dump.” It’s done when an organization decides to announce or admit to something negative that they’d rather didn’t get any press, since traditionally newspapers didn’t publish a lot of news on Saturdays. This strategy makes little sense in an age of 24-hour cable and Internet news, but the old flacks still stick to tradition.)

Fringe‘s movement to Friday is not good news for the show’s future. Here’s a list of shows that Fox cancelled after moving them to Friday. Other networks have done the same with their “struggling” sci-fi shows — most famously, NBC did it in 1968 with the most famous sci-fi show of them all, Star Trek. (A landmark show that no one should feel embarrassed being compared to.)

Let’s not sugar-coat it: the Friday move is a grim development. On paper, Fringe has at least a few more months on the air, but in reality, there may be just weeks for viewers to make whatever impact they can make on its future. The holidays are approaching, when most people are otherwise distracted and occupied, and then the show will be tried out in its new time slot and expected to perform. Fox seems to want it to merely retain its current audience, but there’s the whole new wrinkle of it being scheduled against Supernatural, another sci-fi niche show with its own following. How do you convince SPN fans to DVR that show and watch Fringe live… and will it have any effect on Nielsens? (That’s one aspect of a “war” to save Fringe that people might not have the stomach for.)

Fox has acknowledge a “certain core audience” in its further remarks about the move, and the reaction to the rescheduling has produced an unsurprising amount of vocally expressed anger and trepidation among viewers and TV writers alike. Most people who watch the show would probably agree that Fringe went into the creative stratosphere in 2010, and Thursday’s episode (“The Abducted”) was much talked-about as a new high point for the season.

So TV Overmind has recommended some things that viewers should do, and at least one group of viewers has decided to re-organize and do what they can to promote the show as hard as they can.

A war is coming: so what are viewers fighting for?

In the immediate short term, it’s about retaining current viewers and encouraging new ones. It seems a gargantuan task, given the odds against shows that have been moved to Fridays, but the TV Overmind article has some very good advice about how viewers can promote a show online and off. Seek out new viewers on any online forum, any platform, and engage them about the show. Turn off your anger and dismay at Fox and embrace Fringe as a Friday show, and create conversation about it.

And many other things can be done. (Viewers are getting together to discuss this as you read this.)

In the long term, however, it’s about much more. It’s about showing the flag for science fiction, showing the flag for quality television, and showing the flag for Fringe as an enduring concept. What viewers do right now in the short-term — over the next several weeks — will make the long-term difference. Not just to the possibility of the show remaining on the air for the short term, but for the story and characters and amazing worlds of Fringe remaining alive for the long term – whether on network television or in other media.

When Star Trek “died” in 1969, that wasn’t the end of it. Its fans changed the game. Even though it ceased to be an NBC television program after just three seasons, they refused to let the show and its vision die.

So did Walter Bishop when Peter died in 1985.

So can Fringe fans change the game? What would it take? Let’s find out.

A short, intense effort aimed at making the move to Friday as least damaging as possible to the show’s ratings is the top priority. This effort will not be open-ended; it will be spread out over a few weeks, maybe a couple of months, and there is no guarantee of the show’s renewal.

However, while viewer passion may not save the show for another season, this passion is the only thing that can save Fringe for the future. What viewers do in response, over the next few all-too-short weeks, to Fox’s announcement could have an effect for years to come. They could create another universe – even beyond Fox Television – where there still is a Fringe.

As Walter said in a recent episode:

“‘Only those that risk going too far can possibly know how far they can go.’ That’s what Belly used to say.”

Is it time to “Save Fringe”?

On the afternoon of Wednesday, November 17, a Brazilian TV fansite posted a tweet warning that Fringe might be cancelled and that fans everywhere should use the hashtag #savefringe to get Fox Television’s attention. For a few hours, the hashtag trended at the #1 position in Brazil and was picked up by many others around the world, including in the U.S. and Canada, leaving many to wonder if Fringe had really been targeted for cancellation, or if it was all just a crazy Brazilian rumor.

Although no one at the network is talking openly about a Fringe cancellation, fans of the show grow ever more skittish with each passing week as the show’s Nielsens slowly sink further into the danger zone, particularly in the all-important 18-49 demographic. This, even as the show’s DVR numbers continue to be eye-opening, adding anywhere from 33 – 45% ratings improvement each week.

So when is the right time to mount a “Save Fringe” campaign (as opposed to just Twittering)? Is earlier always better? Or is a #savemyshow hashtag just counterproductive, attracting the wrong kind of attention? How long should fans wait before riding off on the most quixotic of quests… saving a low-rated show from the executioner’s axe?

Every endangered show’s situation is different.
In 1968, Star Trek was famously “saved” by what was then a brand-new innovation — the massive fanmail blitz. Organized by superfan Bjo Trimble, the mail campaign inundated NBC with hundreds of thousands of letters pleading for Star Trek‘s return to the air for the 1968-69 season. The campaign succeeded — but it was a pyrrhic victory, as NBC opted to move the show to a deadly Friday timeslot, where it continued to languish until the network pulled the plug.

Ironically, a move away from Thursday nights is probably something most Fringe fans think they would want. Fox is currently using the show as a “wedge” on this impossibly overscheduled night; the plan has been to keep Fox “in the game” on a night it’s not going to win anyway. Unfortunately, Fox’s strategy of pairing Fringe with Bones doesn’t seem to be gaining it any ratings traction whatsoever, as Bones‘ flighty demographic takes off promptly for parts unknown at 9 p.m., probably to The Office or Gray’s Anatomy (two frothy shows that don’t require much brain power to enjoy). And Fringe’s impressive DVR numbers, while providing an intangible boost, don’t count with the Nielsens and aren’t likely to any time soon.

One thing is clear: When it comes to mounting “Save This Show” campaigns, waiting until springtime schedule announcements is far too late. Once a cancellation has been announced, it’s virtually impossible to save the patient (sorry, Caprica fans), and even if the patient is granted a reprieve, the prognosis is almost never good. Moving a show to another night (especially Fridays) is also usually just the last whistle stop on the way to oblivion – although not necessarily, if the show is strongly supported by its fans and by enough TV critics, and if scheduling is an element of the problem to begin with.

It’s never pleasant to think of a good show needing to be “saved,” because that begs the question of Why aren’t people watching it anyway? But it’s also no good trying to raise an army at the last moment. It’s a cruel truth that Fringe‘s many international fans “don’t count” – none of them are Nielsen families. However, the esprit de corps of the Twitterati on November 17 was impressive, and gives a clue of how Twitter could be part of an effective future campaign to win a fourth season for Fringe. (It goes without saying that no show can ever be saved through Twitter alone.)

Despite efforts to cast Fox as the bad guy here, there’s been no indication that the network has been anything but supportive of this unusual show. The problem is in some ways beyond Fox’s control: American TV audiences have simply scattered to the four winds. Technological advances have enabled viewers — especially in the coveted demographic — to download, DVR, and time-shift their favorite shows. (Indeed, it’s possible to believe that Fringe may be the long-term preferred show of many of these DVR users, who would rather watch The Office live and keep Fringe on their DVRs for multiple future viewings.)

A good “Save Fringe” campaign, then, would (1) be ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice once Fox makes definitive noises about cancellation; (2) would be able to get behind possible alternatives, such as a move to another night (though risky); (3) would recognize the network’s own faith in the show thus far and try to encourage more of it. These are the same principles successfully used in the past not only by Bjo Trimble, but by the late Viewers For Quality Television – an organization with surely would have been on Fringe‘s side if it still existed today.

So is it “too soon” to start thinking about “Saving Fringe”? The answer is no, it’s never too soon. But any campaign would have to be extremely well planned, and well timed, according to the show’s unique strengths, taking into account what Fox needs, and mining the considerable passion that has built up behind the show over the last two and a half seasons.

In the meantime, the boring advice, but best advice, is to continue to promote the show and get people to watch it live. But maybe also in the meantime, a little target practice might not hurt.

Our friend Isaac

Last week’s episode, “The Box” (302), featured not one but two quotes by Isaac Asimov during the reading of William Bell’s last will and testament.  Both were paraphrases of the original Asimov quotes.  From the scene:

My great friend Isaac once said, life is joy, death is peace. It’s transition that’s difficult.

Asimov’s actual quote: “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.”
Another great paraphrase of Asimov from the scene:

Walter, we gather knowledge faster than we gather wisdom. By now I trust you have ample reserves of both.”

Here’s the original Asimov quote: “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

Although the writers no doubt paraphrased the original quotes for clarity and space, there’s also a bit of genius in how they transformed this second quotation. Asimov is referring to the grand collectives of science and society here. But really, isn’t this also true about our individual selves — especially in this Internet age when limitless knowledge is seemingly at our fingertips, and also the capacity to inflict seemingly limitless pain with what we know about others?

This is not just a question of science and society, but of individual human souls… just as true for us as it is for Walter Bishop. Maybe that’s why this quote from Fringe has been retweeted on Twitter dozens of times since the episode aired last Thursday night.