You've got to love a television show that throws caution to the wind and takes an enormous risk. Fox's Fringe did just that this season when it split apart its storytelling by stranding its main character in an alternate universe and didn't look back.
Suddenly in every episode we had two of everything (well, almost everything), with two compelling universes vying for our attention as Anna Torv's Olivia found herself trapped "Over There" and then brainwashed, while Fauxlivia (or Bolivia or not our Olivia) worked against the "Over Here" Fringe gang and made time with Peter (Joshua Jackson).
"We love imagining that in the alternate universe there's a show called Fringe, or there was for a couple years a show called Fringe, that was about this team of Lincoln, Charlie and Bolivia," said executive producer Joel Wyman. "And exploring that other aspect of her life has been great for us. Again, in the stories we tell, choices and a life not lived, it's really great to see this other Olivia's life, because it tells us so much about ours. About the life our Olivia is living. And then all of the doppelgangers play are based on the choices that have been made or different life experiences, but for alt-Astrid. Alt-Astrid is an instance where she's different genetically. Everybody else is identical genetically; they're just different based on nurture."
"We're world-building, and it's at a point where we can explore different pockets of the world and find great satisfaction," added executive producer Jeff Pinkner.
That excitement the producers express shows through as the series takes turns visiting one storyline and then the other, dragging us into each universe with complete commitment. Fringe hasn't just become one of the best SCI-FI television shows on the air ... it's one of the best television shows this season, period. And yet, fewer and fewer people are watching.
What's the lowest-rated Fox series this fall? That'd be the soon-to-be-canceled The Good Guys on Fridays. However, Fringe isn't doing much better. Last week, in a ratings low, the show couldn't even manage 5 million viewers and had a 1.8/5 in adults 18-49. The important number to advertisers, by the way, is that 1.8 and those 18-49 viewers.
There's been some speculation on the net that ratings aren't as important for Fringe, and that it follows the path of another fan favorite. "I know it would be foolish to think Fringe is a shoo-in to be renewed, but I don't think it's crazy to think it might be renewed," commented Brian on tvbythenumbers.com. "When it comes to ratings and renewals, Fringe might be Fox's version of Chuck!"
The problem with that thinking is that NBC's Chuck has a season average of 1.94 A18-49 and has been very steady in the ratings all season. Fringe's ratings have been falling this season, and last week hit its lowest rating yet. (Thank you, baseball!)
Fox has been willing to accept Fringe's low ratings because it's on during one of the toughest time periods on television at 9 p.m. on Thursdays and up against CSI and Grey's Anatomy. But Fringe's viewership has fallen from an average 9.96 million total viewers on Tuesdays in season one to 7.34 million total viewers in its present timeslot last season, and now we're down to a 4.804. You might theorize it was just a bad week, after being pre-empted for baseball's World Series. However, with Fringe at its most serialized and with its gruesome-murder-of-the-week quotient less noticeable, will people come back?
Fringe is competing with Fox's Lie To Me as Fox's most significant "bubble show" with a likelihood of cancellation. The network ordered 22 episodes this season, and our best guess is that we'll see all of the show's third season. But, honestly, this series is not helping Fox's bottom line.
We love Fringe. We love all things Walter and Walternate, Olivia and Fauxlivia, Peter and the Astrids and the Broyles and Charlie and Lincoln. We haven't even really noticed the missing Observers or the gore level moving down a notch. The show's daring direction thrills us. This is the kind of storytelling other television shows should aspire to.
But if there is any more erosion in Fringe's viewership, Fox will be forced to cancel (and rightfully so) one of the best series on television. Fox is a business, and it's already been forced this season to cancel Lone Star, which was a critical success and a ratings bust.
We're hoping that if things get worse, the network will give Fringe one last chance on Fridays or Mondays, which either will once and for all kill it or perhaps give this amazing series one final shot at finding the audience and keeping it deserves.
Why do you think Fox should or shouldn't cancel Fringe? Do you care?