Thursday, December 2, 2010

#FringeFriday - Can it work?

The night that Fox released their midseason schedule, I did a big post on all of their moves in recent years that had led to the Monday to Thursday schedule, then at the end I threw in an offhand remark that I thought Fringe was dead on Friday night. I'll reiterate that I have loved this season and that I hope it isn't the case, but I thought I'd illuminate a little bit of the math I'm looking at and that this show will have to defy if it does indeed make it into another season.

The two issues here are What must Fringe rate? and What will Fringe rate? A recent Renew/Cancel index at TVByTheNumbers probably does as good a job with the first question as anyone could without knowing more of the money particulars, so I'll just briefly address that point and then move onto the other one, since I by no means "hesitate to predict future ratings." ;-)

On the first point, I just want to mention the Kevin Reilly quote that so many fans are leaning on. It's this (and can be found in the above link and any number of other places):
“If it does anywhere near what it did on Thursdays, we can glue that show to the schedule because it can be a big win for us.”
"What it did on Thursdays" thus far has been a 2.34 original demo average in the 2009-10 season and a 1.91 average in its seven eps to date this season. I think Kevin Reilly's absolutely right. If the show brings a 1.9 demo or even a little lower over to Friday night, I'll go a step farther than TVBTN and say I think there's very little chance they would cancel the show. That 1.9 would likely make it the highest-rated show on Friday night, and while "winning the night" is not really that big a deal, it just illustrates that Fox would probably have very little shot at finding anything that could do nearly that well. (See The Good Guys' 0.73 average on Friday to date if you need any evidence.) The show might be a loss leader in the upper 1's. I don't really know. I just see it as a hit the net might be willing to take.

A lot of people are making "Is Kevin Reilly lying to us?" the issue, but it shouldn't be. I'm pretty sure he's not. But he's leaving something out. What he's leaving out is that the real hurdle is doing "anywhere near what it did on Thursdays." In that arena, there are a lot of examples against and not very many for.

Let's start with genre shows on Fox. Of course, there's Dollhouse, which premiered in 2009 to a 2.0, and it's that premiere data point that might offer as much hope as anything. The show plummeted as low as a 1.0 later that season but still got renewed in one of those decisions that makes you say, "Does any of this ratings shit really matter at all?" It averaged a 0.85 demo in season 2 and got canned.

Perhaps the more relevant recent examples are Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Prison Break, since their situations more closely mirror Fringe; they were established shows that got moved to Friday. Terminator, like Fringe, had a solid season 1. Then it dropped big in season 2, averaging a 2.06 in the fall of 2008, pretty similar to where Fringe is at right now. It got moved to Fridays alongside Dollhouse, and Fox, like with Fringe, at least claimed to be making a good faith effort to have it work. I remember a big Summer Glau/Eliza Dushku ad campaign at the time. It promptly premiered to a 1.4 and would ultimately average a 1.27 in its spring episodes and get canned. If you're keeping score at home, that's a 38% drop from the fall Monday episodes to the spring Friday ones.

Prison Break had run three decent seasons on Fox before taking a big drop in the fall of 2008 to a 2.27 Monday average, just a little better than what its lead-in Terminator had been doing on the same evening. It returned in April 2009 with a Friday night timeslot and averaged a mere 1.08 demo, less than half of what it had pulled that fall. Now, to be fair, this was a more genuine burnoff situation than Terminator was. There was a much bigger time gap between the Monday and Friday runs here, and I don't think there was nearly as much promotion. But this seemed to be the prototypical "core audience" show and more than half of that core from the fall vanished for the spring Friday run.

Oh yeah, and before we leave Fox, those horrific The Good Guys numbers were down 39% from the already horrific summer numbers, and 'Til Death's move to Friday saw it down 61% from its previous run earlier in the week. (Though the time gap was nearly a year in that case.)

Other nets don't offer that much more encouragement. Ugly Betty was supposed to be one of those "core audience" shows, and its demo toward the end of its Thursday run was hovering right around that very Fringe-ian 2.0. It premiered on Friday to a 1.4, averaged a 1.21 on the night overall (down 48% from its complete season 3 average), and even got thrown back into the midweek. (But the damage was done; it improved but only to a 1.48 on Wednesday later in its final season.)

CSI: NY has been touted as a Friday night victory by some due to its total viewer numbers, but even this long-running show, which seems like it might be well-suited to a casual viewing Friday TV audience, is down 41% from its 2009-10 average so far, and that gets uglier if we compare just fall numbers vs. fall numbers.

There aren't too many shows where we can track this twice, but Law & Order is one of 'em. It may seem another show like CSI: NY that's suited to Fridays, but it dropped 26% in its first move to Friday in the 2006-07 season, then dropped 34% from its 2008-09 Wednesday average when it was moved to Friday again in fall 2009.

Another "core audience" type show in Smallville took a 37% dip from its last Thursday season to its first Friday season, though it got renewed for a final season and has actually rebounded a bit at times this season to date.

"OK, you're killing me here, Spot," says the Fringe fan. "Give me something I can use! Hasn't somebody made the transition well?"

Well, the numbers are less ugly for Medium, I guess. It only dropped 23% in 2009-10. But there were lots of other things at play there, like a network switch. Prior to fall 2009 I heard a lot of "It's on a network that will treat it right! They're stronger overall, and they'll put it on in the fall and give it a compatible lead-in!" Still dropped 23%, and then has lost another chunk this year when it lost said compatible lead-in.

Everybody Hates Chris actually increased from its recent Sunday results in its Friday move in 2008-09, although that was a weird situation, and you could argue Sunday is at least as bad as Friday on the CW. (The net doesn't even program the night anymore!) It still got canned anyway, as appeared inevitable when they made the move.

If there's one example you probably should be hanging your hat on, it's Supernatural, which has moved to Friday almost as well as anyone. It got paired back up with long-time lead-in Smallville and so far is down just 13% from its average last season and just 15% when only comparing fall 2009 vs. fall 2010. And, even better, it actually came from the exact same competitive timeslot from which Fringe will be moving. So maybe facing Grey's and CSI and The Office is almost as bad for these shows as being on Friday.

So... can #FringeFriday work? Even if you give it the same 15% drop that Supernatural has taken, that puts it at about a 1.6 demo, which is not necessarily a slam dunk renewal. (Although I think it could get renewed there.) There are some similarities in the Fringe and Supernatural situations, but it still seems like taking that 15% Supernatural drop is pretty much an absolute best case scenario, keeping in mind it'll also be in direct competition with Supernatural. And for every Supernatural, as illustrated above, there are legions of shows that have taken 30%+ drops. A typical 30% drop puts it in 1.3 territory, almost certainly a trouble zone unless there's a Dollhouse-style budget slash going on. And I have a feeling that's about where the show's headed. It isn't the first show with a "core audience" that thought they'd mostly stick around with a move to Friday, and it would be far from the first to be wrong about that point. That's why I called it dead a couple weeks back. Prove me wrong, Fringe fans. Please.

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