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.

One response

  1. It seems Fox mishandles really good shows. I.E. Firefly and Sarah Connor Chronicles. Please Fox avoid a serious mistake and keep Fringe. This is THE BEST Sci Fi show on TV right now. The storyline is awesome and surprising. The cast T A L E N T! SciFi fans are the most true fans and we will follow this show. Sell it to SyFy if you’re too scared to keep it going!

    March 28, 2011 at 3:11 am

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