I don’t blame FOX for Fringe’s decline in ratings. The fact is, Fringe is a challenging show that requires a lot of attention and has been positioned against some successful shows that don’t. Fringe runs against two of the most successful procedurals on the TV schedule, Grey’s Anatomy and CSI, as well as NBC’s block of 30-minute comedy The Office and Outsourced. Not even considering the cable offerings, Thursday at 9:00pm is your DVR’s equivalent of cardio-hour. Fringe simply couldn’t keep up with the competition there in terms of its must-watch-live status, but on the other hand Fringe is a phenom in DVR performance. Fringe tops the DVR charts consistently, destroying it’s live competitors Grey’s and CSI in terms of gains in the key demo of adult viewers aged 18-49. (See this piece at TVByTheNumbers.) The sad fact is: DVR numbers only tell the potential for a show if the mitigating DVR-choice factors – time slot, competition, etc. – were removed. On the up side, while Fringe still has some growing to do to crawl outside of the bubble, the fact is Friday could potentially convert a sizable share of those DVR numbers into live views.
Another thing worth considering about this scheduling thing is that while it is true that FOX often puts scripted shows on Fridays that are in danger of cancellation, in this case there may be an entirely different set of reasoning. FOX could be looking to Fringe as its best hope for bringing value back to Friday, after The Good Guys pretty much hosed the value of the time-slot. Networks use selected slices of time to set the value of their advertising space. They call this “The Sweeps.” During the sweeps, ratings data is tabulated to be representative of the various demos related to each time-slot. In the last sweeps period The Good Guys was essentially a joke. It pulled cable level live viewers, and even worse adult viewer demos. In the next round of sweeps, which kick off in February, FOX needs to bring some value back to that time slot – but at the same time cannot move a ‘successful’ show into a night where it will most assuredly lose viewers. Of the shows that would make the most sense – Lie To Me, Fringe, and Human Target – only Fringe will have enough new episodes available to make it through February sweeps. Again: Fringe was the only choice if FOX wanted to undo the devaluation of The Good Guys, there is simply nothing else on their schedule that could fill that spot.
Granted, it could be a lot of smoke blowing, but FOX head Kevin Reilly speaks of the Fringe scheduling in very positive terms on Deadline.com saying “Fringe has a very particular, loyal audience. If Fringe could stay near the current levels, we’ll get a big trade-up on Friday and will solve our problem there.”
The fact is, Fringe does have a very loyal audience and it is very likely Fringe will retain more core viewers in this Friday move than something like House, or Bones. The key word in Reilly’s statement is that he believes FOX has a ‘Friday Problem.’ The truth is, most networks do – aside from the potential for diminished demos in the adult range there are a lot of organic factors that make Friday a poor choice for major advertising campaigns. Fringe has a hard road ahead of itself to make Friday profitable enough to ensure a renewal, but the chances may be better than you think.