At the Television Critics Association conference in Pasadena yesterday, Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly insisted that the network remains strongly committed to Fringe, despite the fact the poorly-rated show has been moved to a Friday night time-slot where shows often struggle to command large audiences.
“I beg you to not write the [show's] eulogy prematurely,” Reilly told the critics. “It’s a show we’re very passionate about.”
Reilly argued that the move to Friday does not indicate a lack of faith in the show: on the contrary, he spelled out a case that it’s a pretty good fit for the night.
“Friday has been a troubled night,” he said. “It’s not a free night for us. It’s not a night we can just sort of hang out a ‘gone fishin’ sign. We are continually looking for the solution to the night.”
Many of Fringe’s existing viewers already watch it via time-shifting (which is the term for programming not watched “live,” but via DVR, Tivo, or some other recording device). In other words, viewers don’t necessarily need to be home Friday night to watch the show.
“You already get about fifty percent of [Fringe's] audience watching it on
DVR, as it is, on Thursday,” Reilly said. “I’d really hope those fans would stick with it, even if it means that DVR usage goes up a little bit more on Friday.”
In arguing that the network is still strongly committed to the show, Reilly noted the critical praise the show has received this season.
“I was very happy to see it turn up on a number of Top 10 lists this year,” he said. The producers of the show “deserve it. The work is outstanding. They make a mini-movie every week. The production value is incredible.”
Reilly also insisted that there are currently no plans to change the show, trying to make it appealing to a broader audience.
“We are going to do the same show, and they are already on a track for the season,” he said. “They can’t make any changes to it. I think, if anything, they will be really liberated. Right now we are down to a core loyal audience that watches it each weekend.”
Reilly added, “I think, frankly, one of the conundrums of it is, as it’s really gotten to be more pure and a better version, kind of what I think it was destined to be, it’s probably a little bit difficult to join it in progress for some of the new viewers on Thursday. I think now they can say, ‘Do you know what? We are playing to our fans, happy to take anyone new that wants to get on board.’ But if our fans stick with us, you know, the show can stay on the air for many years.”
As for the show’s struggle in the ratings on Thursday nights, Reilly said, “It’s been the most challenging night — a four-way scripted race at nine o’clock on Thursdays. There is no other time period that’s even had that. [Fringe has] done a job for us. It put us in business on Thursday night. With the new structure, we are looking to go a little bit broader with the rating. I want every one of those audience members to transfer to Friday.”
Regarding the ratings the network hopes to achieve on Friday, which might be an early indication of the show’s eventual fate, Reilly said, “If we just literally transfer the rating we have, you know, even in that ballpark to Friday, we have significantly upgraded our Friday night both in terms of numbers and quality.”
It’s important to keep in mind that a network would never declare in public that they’ve given up on a show still in production. Earlier this year, for example, SyFy publicly claimed to be strongly committed to Caprica, despite reports now that behind-the-scenes, the channel had mostly already given up on the show.
That said, Reilly sounded genuinely sincere in his support for Fringe.
“It’s a fantastic show,” he said, “and honestly, I’d be heartbroken if it went away.”
Fringe returns Friday, January 21st at 9 PM.