Tonight is the night. The night that could effectively change everything…The night that in genre-TV-nerd terms would be the equivalent of the 2004 Boston Red Sox victory. (And I am sure there are some baseball fanatics out there who resent that comparison, but whatever. Cool yer jets, jocks!) If an uncharacteristic demonstration of commitment on the part of a network, coupled with staunch fan dedication and the power of the internets have their way, tonight signals Fringe’s real shot at kicking the Friday night death-slot curse. (For those who click that link, be sure to grok the exceptionally long subheading under Fox. Even if you already know the history, it’s dire to see it all laid out in black and white…)
There’s a lot to recommend in tonight’s installment of, for this nerd’s money, the best show currently on TV; as if we weren’t right in the middle of a near-flawless, utterly gripping third season, tonight Fringe offers us special guest star Dr. Emmett frakking Brown as a burned-out rock ‘n’ roll hero of Walter’s. (If you aren’t giggle-happy with glee at the idea of Christopher Lloyd and John Noble sharing screen time, turn in your “Mad Scientists Fan Club” badge) Meanwhile, the episode is also, as The Daily Beast’s Jace Lacob pointed out a while back, somewhat ominously entitled “Firefly” – obviously having no real connection to Joss Whedon’s wildly-beloved 2002 space epic, but way eerie in that Fringe’s first Friday venture evokes the title of the most notorious Friday/Fox casualty of all time. </shudder>
Plenty of Fringe fans, and lovers of good genre television in general, are antsy with dread about the prospect of yet another superlative series being consigned to early retirement via its network moving it to what is popularly an out-on-the-town evening. Me? Call me crazy, but I’m remaining optimistic… for a handful of key reasons:
- The TCA Promise-plication: At this month’s Television Critics Association press event, Fox president Kevin Reilly declared right out of the gate that if Fringe were ever canceled, he’d be “heartbroken.” He also begged against “eulogizing” the show prematurely, and noted that the not-hot-for-Thursday numbers it was pulling would in fact be great Friday numbers. Essentially, Reilly’s talking points may fall short of an outright promise of unwavering support, but they seem to imply that if Fringe’s base sticks with the show – and given that the Friday move is happening after 2 1/2 seasons of densely plotted show so attracting new viewers is a daunting prospect – then Fox has no reason to consider cancellation. At this point, I’m taking him at his word, although I would also point out that ridiculing the Friday Night death slot phenomenon might not be the best use of marketing time – why not throw some of those dollars into seriously playing up the strengths of the show, and its acclaim? Remember, Kev, back in 1993 your network properly nurtured The X-Files into a hit on Fridays for its first three years.
- Enough Fan Love For Two Universes: Truly, most of the shows J.J. Abrams has had a hand in have engendered their own loyal fan bases. Given Fox’s reputation for swiftly canceling acclaimed genre stuff, however, it’s almost as though Team Fringe has struck a defensive pose from the get-go, periodically holding their breath in between bouts of cataloging Observer appearances and cracking the glyph code. Earlier in this current season, as the show kept turning up on TV writers’ “on the bubble” lists, the fandom’s grass-roots effort to drum up support actually preceded November’s Friday move announcement. Since then, however, it’s been as passionate as ever… and remarkably optimistic in tone. I highly recommend checking out the gang over at The Fringe Movement, who have so far conducted about as exemplary a fan campaign as I’ve ever seen.
- The DVR Factor: At the end of the day, many Fox Friday cancellations pre-dated the DVR era and so the wide-reaching option for folks to have their Friday night cake and eat it wasn’t part of the equation. If TiVo had penetrated the market a little faster, we might be enjoying the ninth season of Firefly right now. (Settle down, Browncoats… no tears…) In addition, indications are that at long last, despite the frustrating-for-ad-suits option to fast forward commercials, networks are beginning to weigh DVR numbers more heavily alongside broadcast ratings – a practice so many have been advocating for some time now, and one that perhaps could have saved shows like The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Dollhouse if it had been taken seriously sooner. How big a role DVR numbers will play in Fringe retaining its current audience is yet to be determined, but the show would really be adrift in Reiden Lake without a paddle without them.
Sound off below! Who’s excited about curse-breaking?! Who is really relying on their DVRs? Other thoughts on Friday casualties of the past?