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!

One response

  1. Shellie Wong

    What about the relationship that characters have built with fans on Facebook!? I think that also plays a huge role! We are connected with the show in a way we have never been before! And its awesome!

    March 27, 2011 at 5:35 pm

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