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      Email Post       3/28/2011 08:25:00 PM      

'Fringe' renewed: Can fan passion trump ratings? By Henry Hanks, CNN March 28, 2011 6:15 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- Not so long ago, TV shows like "Firefly," "Wonderfalls," "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" and "Dollhouse" were mourned by science fiction fans as having been canceled before their time, due -- as it always is -- to low ratings.

Another thing each had in common: They aired on Fox on Friday nights.

So observers of the TV world were surprised Thursday to learn of the network's renewal of the series "Fringe" for a full fourth season after two months in a Friday timeslot.

Adding to the surprise: It was picked up in March, much earlier than many other shows with "on the bubble" status -- an equal chance of cancellation or renewal -- would traditionally find out their fates. (One week earlier, NBC renewed two of its "on the bubble" series with a passionate fanbase: "Community" and "Parks and Recreation.")

Fans and many TV critics feared that the show's cancellation was imminent when it was moved from a Thursday slot to Friday. Despite encouraging words from Fox, fans rallied support for the show on social media, and star Joshua Jackson even got involved, reminding the "Fringe" faithful not to rest on their laurels.

The show's ratings started out on par with what they were on Thursday but then started to drop, eventually hitting a series low six days before it was renewed, which begs the question: Did fan support and other factors count for more than the show's raw viewership?

Fox's news release announcing the pick-up of the show, about a war between an alternate universe and our own, certainly gave the fans plenty of credit.
"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 the network's entertainment president, Kevin Reilly.

"Ultimately, I think Fox is making a decision not based purely on ratings but based on (fan) commitment and dedication," said Jovana Grbic, editor and creative director of, who is contributing a chapter to an upcoming book examining the science behind the series. "This is an unprecedented level of support for a show with a small but dedicated fanbase, something that sci-fi in particular has had a very difficult time attaining on network television."

Dennis Acevedo, creator of, attributes it to DVR viewing, especially considering its current timeslot. "It consistently ranks as one of the highest shows in DVR viewing," he said. "And people who like it really like it."

Acevedo quoted a recent interview on in which Executive Producer Joel Wyman said, "Not everybody likes licorice, but people who like licorice really like licorice. We're happy being that."

But is being "licorice" really all it takes to make a show successful today?

" 'Fringe's' ratings looked very decent for a Friday," said Robert Seidman, who follows TV viewership very closely as co-founder of and found the renewal's timing "a little odd."

"The ratings that matter most are ones nobody sees, the 'C3' rating that measure commercial viewing live plus three days of DVR viewing," he said. "All that DVR viewing is great for Fox's PR department, but it doesn't add much extra advertising revenue."

Indeed, the anonymous Twitter user who claims to work for Fox, known as the Masked Scheduler, recently tweeted about an improvement in "Fringe's" ratings the night after its renewal: "Supporting shows by viewing live helps more than u know."

Another possible factor: Science fiction shows typically bring in audiences with higher household incomes. "Seeing that kind of data was what got me interested in doing the website to begin with," Seidman said. "However, that data does not flow freely at all."

So, despite the advent of DVRs and full episodes streaming online, have there been any other major changes since the days of "Firefly" that would add more weight to the passion of a show's fanbase?

"There are now more people watching cable instead of broadcast. The broadcast ratings are lower now than they were when 'Firefly' was on," Seidman said, meaning that some shows do, in fact, stay on the air with ratings that might have gotten them canceled in years past.

As for whether fan efforts can consistently make the difference between cancellation and renewal -- in the way it seemed for shows like "Chuck" and "Jericho" in the past -- Seidman said, "It can't hurt, but I'm not really sold on that. I am sold to some degree: Fans' passion about a show does register with the networks. But I don't think that's enough to save a show if the ratings aren't any good."

No matter the reason, fans understand just how fortunate they are to have the show last this long.

"As a sci-fi fan, expert and writer, the renewal and network backing pleases me because it sends a message to writers and developers of future science fiction television that there is a place for intricate, intelligent shows with a multilayered plot on network television, that the risks are worth taking, and that networks are beginning to recognize the value of the niche as a fan base," Grbic said.

"I think Fringe is just a really unique situation. It's been this experimental show at Fox since the beginning," Acevedo said. "And so far, it's gotten through everything thrown at it."


Anonymous said...

I just saw it on and then came here! How awesome, congrats!

FringeFrog said...

I hope Fox and other networks do take notice of what the fans are saying.

Overseas fans don't count in the ratings, but we are all trying to support the show. In Australia's case despite the lack of commitment from our the local network (Channel Go who don't seem to understand the concept of consumer demand or using their own media to keep their consumers up to date on what they are doing), we can only show our commitment via social media and fan websites, purchasing DVDs and other merchandise (what we can get of it).

In this day and age, there is so much more to TV than the TV itself. Merchandise, DVDs, pay on demand (also severally limited in AU thanks to Channel Go) sales should all be factored in to the equation along with traditional and non traditional ratings.

And lets face it sci-fi fans have to be the biggest supporters and spenders in the universe – who else rocks up to conventions and events years after a program has finished airing still pulling out their wallets at every opportunity!

JuliDG said...

Congrats Dennis!!!!! Your The Best!!!!

Matthew M said...

What the networks and advertisers have a hard time coming to terms with is that "TIMES HAVE CHANGED"! People don't sit at home every night just to watch their favorite shows. First came VCR's and now DVR's plus now we have on-line broadcasts and rebroadcasts like HULU and VIDEO ON DEMAND. The 'old school' doesn't work any more and the people at the top just don't get it and don't know what to do about it. What will happen down the road I have no idea but as they say about most things eventually, "them days are gone forever!"

Anonymous said...

Congrats !!! I just descovered This website and it's become my favorite now !!
so happy for you


cortexifan said...

Congrats Dennis. Keep us updated on Fringe stuff especially during the summer.

Speaking of ratings: Bloodline's ratings were adjusted down to 1.4.
Watch the re-runs the next two weeks for sure. They might count.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with curmudgeon. Networks can no longer rely solely on ratings. I can't even remember the last time I watched Fringe live, especially since it was moved to Friday. Just because I'm 30 with two kids doesn't mean I sit at home watching TV on Friday's. I have a DVR for a reason (besides fast-forwarding through the commercials).

Anonymous said...

We Fringe fans may not all be in the higher tax brackets, but we are (for the most part) intelligent, creative, articulate and use proper language in our postings. Potty mouthed knuckle draggers have no business here, I say.

Anonymous said...

Love the show keep it going.

Old Darth said...

Congrats Dennis! Very cool for you to be included in the article.

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