Peter Bishop might want to think about not existing again, because the ratings for Fringe are getting kinda scary — and not in a cool translucent skin, third-arm-sticking-out-of-my-collided-selves’-chest kind of way. And yet another Peter — Warner Bros. TV president Peter Roth — says it’s too early for fans of the far-out series to freak out.
During its first season, when it aired on Tuesdays (sometimes leading out of a little show called American Idol), Fringe averaged 10 million total viewers and was known to score a 4.0 rating, if not higher, with the coveted 18-49 crowd. But in the show’s third year, Fox relocated the sci-fier from Thursdays to Fridays, and, well, we all know how that goes. The Season 4 opener this September drew 3.5 million viewers and a 1.5 rating, and at last count, heading into its winter hiatus, Fringe fell below the 3-million viewer threshold for the first time, while matching its all-time low rating of 1.1 (set a week earlier).
Still, Roth, whose Warner Bros. TV produces Fringe, tells TVLine, “It’s too soon to tell” if fans should brace for this being the final season.
Rather, Roth is holding out hope that one of the “x” factors that kept Fringe Division’s doors open last spring at renewal time comes into play again — that being the Friday night drama’s unparalleled increases through Live+7 DVR playback. This season-to-date, Fringe is averaging a 54-percent bump in the demo once everyone’s DVRs are cleared, and a 50-percent gain in total audience (a surge only edged out by Chuck, which happens to be another WBTV property.)
“This is a show on Friday nights that audiences love to DVR, and as such we shoot up anywhere from 40 to 63 percent, when you calculate the Live+7,” Roth points out. “Hopefully that will be good enough for us to continue.”
However, Fringe‘s laudable Live+7 performance — which by the way is of not much consequence to advertisers whose commercials are being fast-forwarded during playback — was but one of the reasons it eked out a Season 4 pick-up last May. There was also the matter of WBTV reportedly reducing the licensing fee for the show, and the fact that come decision time Fox had other underperforming hour-longs (Human Target, Lie to Me, The Good Guys) to eye for the chopping block. But next time around, unless the Bones spin-off The Finder or Kiefer Sutherland’s Touch open very soft at midseason, only an extremely sweet deal from WBTV might keep Fox’s scythe from swinging Fringe’s way.
As Robert Seidman, co-founder of TVByTheNumbers.com, explains, “Last year Warner Bros.’ wheeling and dealing to get Fringe to 88 episodes for stripped syndication was surely a much bigger factor than DVR viewing or that Fox had a Friday scripted show (The Good Guys) that performed much worse, so there’ll be a higher degree of difficulty for a fifth-season renewal.”
Even the temptation to order a 13-episode fifth and final season for Fringe — if only to get the show past the 100-episode mark — might not be enticing enough for either party. As Seidman notes, “Serialized shows don’t do well in syndication.”
That said, Seidman (who last season was bearish on the show’s renewal prospects, only to be proven wrong) must allow, “It is Fringe, so anything is possible, even in this universe” — especially should the show scare up a ratings bump when it comes back Jan. 13 with the arrival/return of a very big baddie. “But for the fans’ sake, if this is to be the final season, I hope the producers are given enough lead-time to wrap things up nicely.”
Watch a new promo for Fringe‘s winter return, airing Jan. 13: