Scheduling history: Season one of Fringe was on Tuesday and had the best situations Fox could possibly provide: after House in the fall, then after American Idol in the spring. Things have gotten progressively tougher since, starting with a season and a half in the tough Thursday 9/8c fray and then a move to Friday in the last half of season three. It remained there for the last two seasons.
See (who saw) how it all began: Fox got what looked like a somewhat disappointing start out of Fringe, as its two-hour pilot was seen by just 9.13 million viewers and pulled a 3.2 demo rating on September 9, 2008. Not dead on arrival, but nothing special in the landscape of 2008. The good news: help was on the way. That 3.2 ended up being the low point of season one, as week two brought a House lead-in and its 5.6 demo, and Fringe vaulted to a 5.1 demo. The show then settled in the 4.0 vicinity for most of the rest of the fall. An American Idol lead-in in early 2009 got the show as high as a 5.0 again, but the show again settled at around a 4.0 in spring 2009.
The best of times: After one season, Fox apparently had enough of Fringe soaking up the huge lead-ins, and Fringe would never again get anywhere near the numbers that were pretty much the norm in season one. However, there were a couple notable periods of promise in the subsequent couple seasons. Following a fall 2009 of mostly low-2 ratings, the show (along with lead-in Bones) seemed to catch some momentum in its January 2010 run, peaking with a 3.0 demo on 1/28/10. Then there was the move to Friday in early 2011, as for a couple weeks the show amazingly managed to hit a 1.9 demo. That was not just tops on the evening, but it was also above its fall Thursday average! Holding up that well in a Friday move is virtually unheard-of.
The worst of times: Unfortunately, those little glimmers of promise were mostly just that: little glimmers. On Thursday, the show usually just barely hung on, and the initially impressive-for-Friday numbers had faded as low as a 1.2 by the end of season three. Season four, the first full one on Friday, saw another huge drop. The 18-49 rating got as small as a 0.8 for the series' penultimate episode on 1/11/13, and it hit a 0.9 on eight other occasions in the last couple seasons.
Then vs. now: Like with fellow low-rated Warner Bros. production Chuck, I thought that for most of the way there was a decent case to keep Fringe around. It wasn't so much about great ratings on Fringe's part as the failures of Fox's drama development; considering the Friday timeslot, even in the mid-1's I could argue for the show to score another season ahead of higher-rated but much more protected shows like Human Target and The Chicago Code. Also like with Chuck, I thought the season four ratings finally took it into clear cancellation territory, but both of the WB shows scored one more shortened season beyond that point. Fringe unsurprisingly had a rough final season, but now Fox is going to have to figure out what to do next on a night on which they've always struggled.
Adults 18-49 info by season:
|3||2010-11||Thu 9:00, Fri 9:00||1.2||1.64||2.1||detail|
|Premiere||Average||Finale||P -> F|
*- 2012-13 A18-49+ based on the season-to-date league average; will update at season's end based on final league average
For more on The War of 18-49, my look at the history of primetime TV's veteran shows, see the Index.