Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The War of 18-49, Fringe


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:

Seas Year Timeslot Avg y2y Lo Hi Results Grade
12008-09Tuesday 9:
22009-10Thursday 9:002.34-42%1.73.0detail
32010-11Thu 9:00, Fri 9:001.64-30%1.22.1detail
42011-12Friday 9:001.12-32%0.91.5detail

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

Seas Year A18-49+ Label Now15 y2y Lo Hi Premiere Finale
12008-09 135 hit2.26 106 170 106 130
22009-10 83 marginal1.40 -38% 60 107 107 71
32010-11 64 solid(Fri)1.08 -23% 47 83 83 47
42011-12 47 flop0.80 -26% 38 63 63 42
52012-13 46 flop0.78 -2% 38 52 52 52

For more on The War of 18-49, my look at the history of primetime TV's veteran shows, see the Index.

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