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.”